Monks on a High

Lefkas is a Greek Island that never used to be an island. Way back in 800 BC, the Corinthians managed to dig a canal through some marshlands to create the island. Later on the more modern-day Greeks had installed a swing bridge so you can drive from Lefkas to the mainland.

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And that’s what we did at 6am, heading for the Meteoras. Ever since I got to Greece with Dee, she’s been raving on about the Meteoras. So now it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

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The drive up there was pretty cool. It took us 3 hours to wind our way up through the mountains with numerous tunnels and viaducts, all built with lots of EU money. At one stage we hit fog as we drove through the clouds. The drive itself was worth the price of admission.

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We arrived at the town of Kalambaka, just after 9am and found the tourist office who gave us a really good map. Then we were off. There’s six monasteries you can visit and we did them all. Theres quite a few others dotted around that airen’t open to the public and those that are open are closed on different days so we jagged it arriving on a Sunday when all 6 were open.

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The monasteries sit perched on top of rock columns and in the olden days the only way the monks could get in and out was by a series of ladders and rope baskets. Begs the questions as to how exactly did they manage to build the impressive building perched on top of sheer rock cliffs in the first place.

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Nowadays they have carved steps into the rock face and put in a modern road that goes round the back of each of the six monasteries. There are also flying foxes that winch across supplies.

DSC_0843Each of the monasteries are a bit different, all retaining their air of myth and mystery. For starters, one is a nunnery – evoking images of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The most famous is the one that was in James Bond’s “For Your Eyes Only”. Must watch that movie again. This is the most photogenic but the least interesting inside. Megalo Meteoro is the most extensive, housing several museums, including the blacksmith’s shop and the extensive kitchen. As you wander around, you catch a glimpse of monks and nuns going about the stuff that monks and nuns do.

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We managed to knock off all the 6 monasteries by 1pm and we then headed off to find a nice restaurant in the cute little village of Kastraki for lunch. Kastraki sits spectacularly right at the foot of the Meteoras and it was filled with rock climbers, one of which only had one arm. Now there’s guts. The adrenalin junkies are well catered for here as there is also an annual mountain bike race down through the Meteoras.

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We still had some time up our sleeve so we headed for Parga, which is a charming little resort town on the neck of a promontory flanking two bays, with an impressive Venetian Fortress perched high on an adjacent headland guarding the whole town. We spend a couple of hours there checking out the old town, the nice beach and the views from the fortress.
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Then it was off back to Lefkas.

Spending Some Boat Dollars

Whilst in Ithaca I’d rung up the marina in Lefkas and ordered my replacement water pump from the Chandlery recommended by the Marina. I hadn’t been to Lefkas before so I thought this was my best course of action.

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Going Up the Lefkas Canal

The guy from the Chanderly told me it would be there Friday definitely –  Thursday maybe. The Greeks only go back to work on Wednesday after their Easter break so the chances of Thursday were pretty bleak; but we thought we would go in Thursday anyway so we would be there to pick it up Friday morning.

Lefkas is a big boating centre in Greece with lots of charter boats based there, and has lots of chandlerys, sailmakers etc. So we took the opportunity to run down our boat shopping/ chores list.

We had the choice of booking into the Lefkas Marina at 57 euro a night; or going stern to on the town wall for free. I always have trouble knocking back “free”. The water depth next to the wall is a bit shallow in places so we had to pick our spot, but otherwise it was great.

Contract Yacht Services (CYS) was the nearest  chandlery, right opposite where we pulled up, so we started our shopping expedition there. It’s run by a couple of British expats, who are great to deal with – highly recommended if you are in that neck of the woods and like me wondering who to contact.

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Unfortunately the guy I bought my pump off was a nice guy, but disorganised in a typically Greek sort of way. The pump didn’t arrive on Friday but he assured me it would arrive on Saturday. Come Saturday, no pump. He (supposedly) chased it up and told me it would definitely be there Monday. Bugger. We were planning to leave ASAP. So a quick rearrange of our plans and  we hired a car to drive around Lefkas Island on Saturday afternoon before heading to the Meteoras on Sunday. But the Meteoras are a whole blog entry in itself so you will just have to wait for that part.

Returning from the Meteoras on Monday, I got the phonecall to say that my pump model number is not available in Greece. The Greeks never fail to surprise me. It’s a 40psi Jabsco and the advice he got back was that you need to buy the 25psi pump and then buy a 50 euro pressure switch that converts it to 40psi. So we rushed back to CYS and got the same story – this time in 10 minutes rather than 5 days. Another marine store that had lots of Jabsco pumps said the same thing. Onto Google for a bit more research and then back to my original guy to do a deal given he’d screwed us around. Needless to say I got my new 40psi pressure switch for 14 euros more. 13071972_10205728819772652_2908687019931347638_o

But enough of my boring pump story, as we ended up having a really great time in Lefkas. The town itself is quite lively, with good bars and restaurants. These got a bit of a flogging as we kept running into yachties that we didn’t know, but soon got to know over a wine or five.

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The first of these was Barry, who was a Kiwi who owns Sailing Holidays in Greece (and Croatia) and has run flotillas for the last 40 years around these here parts. One of those larger than life characters who had stories to tell and knowledge to impart. At the other end of the sailing experience scale was Johnny and Julia, who had just bought a boat and were embarking on their first great sailing adventure. Barry and I helped them perform their very first Med moor and we had a great night with them. Johnny is Johnny Morant, a young successful painter whose paintings are in a couple of London Galleries (check him out at http://www.johnnymorant.com). Johnny describes himself as a “Youtube sailor”, but has good common sense and wiliness to get out there and learn so they will be right.

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After a hard nights drinking we were looking forward to an AFD, but that was never going to happen when 3 Perth sailors rolled up at the back of La Mischief.

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Stunning Beaches on the West Coast

Lefkas has some great beaches and it was good to get a car and go off exploring. Once again, we were stuck by just how green and lush the islands of the Ionian are. Maybe it’s the time of the year we are here. All the really good beaches of the Ionians seem to be on the Western Coasts and this was the case in Lefkas. We called into a few before we drove down to the south coast to Vasiliki, famous as a windsurfing destination. Then up along the East coast to Nidri, which looks across Vilko Bay, which is a large lagoon with boats anchored everywhere. In the corner of this large bay is another bay called Tranquil Bay. This place is super protected, with some yachts having wintered afloat here.

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An afternoon of driving over, it was time to head back to La Mischief and prepare for an early morning start to the Meteoras.

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Early morning start to the drive to the Meteoras

Passing the Rorschach Test

We left Frikes in the morning and enjoyed a beam reach across to the straits that separates Lefkas and Meganisi, before the wind completely died. As Rod said, the channel is one of the loveliest straits in the Ionians and it was great motoring through it a second time.

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It’s quite amazing to pop through the other side into this wonderful protected bay with yachts everywhere. There was some sort of race going on as well as all the cruising boats. We headed for the private Skorpio Island, which was owned by Aristotle Onassis for a sticky beak.

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You can’t land on the island, it’s still privately owned but it was still interesting circumnavigating it.   Then it was on to Inkblot Island…Meganisi.

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On the charts it looked fascinating with bays and inlets littered along its northern coast. We picked out Port Atheni from Rod and headed there. It wasn’t a port in any sense of the word…just a nice indented bay.   I must admit that I was a little disappointed in Meganisi. It looked really cool on the 2 dimensional chart, but I like Ithaca a lot better.

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Mind you, the water was lovely and clear and the little bays interesting. It’s just that I was expecting a bit more.   We anchored in the head of the bay amongst 4 other boats in about 7m of water. Still too cold for a swim. So we dingied in and had a half litre of wine at the one and only open restaurant. Then back to the boat for a movie and a morning get away.

Montenegro – The Definition of Stunning

Lord Byron once called Montenegro’s coastline the planet’s most beautiful encounter between land and sea and I reckon he might have been onto something.

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Bar is the first port of entry when approaching from the South and that’s where we headed. It was a 107nm run up to Bar from Vlore – too far for a day sail so we planned a slow overnighter.

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Which was just as well as the wind was on our nose the whole way. We burned quite a bit of fuel getting there and by the time we got there at 9am the next morning our diesel tanks were almost empty. Perfect as fuel in Montenegro is quite cheap, and I’d assumed we could get duty free fuel like last time. Two problems with this, you can only get duty free fuel when leaving Montenegro and we needed some on entry and the fuel jetties weren’t interested in providing a small amount (ie 600litres) for the hassle it involved. So no duty free fuel this time. At 92c a liter its still the cheapest I’ve paid for a while.

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The marina cost us 90 euros for the night we were there, a lot cheaper than Budva and Porto Montenegro. The cost of a 7-day cruising permit for Montenegro was also 90 euros, courtesy of being a catamaran.

We took a quick walk around the pleasant waterfront, before hopping in a taxi for the 5km ride to Stari Grad (Old Town). Stari Grad was up on a hill overlooking the new town with an imposing Venetian Castle overlooking some nice cobbled streets. We finished off our day with some of the best octopus we have had so far.

Next day we had a great sail along the coast with a southerly blowing up our behind. We turned into the Bay of Kotor past the twin forts that guarded its entrance where the wind dropped off to nothing. As we turned the corner and headed South into the second bay the wind picked up to 40 knots as it funneled through the narrow opening between the 2 bays. We motor sailed past all the bunkers and submarine bays left over from the war. Then the wind dropped off to nothing again as we motored over to the channel that separated the 2nd Bay from the 3rd Bay. This is the Balkans impersonation of the Norwegian Fjords.

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As we popped out into the 3rd and innermost bay, we had a great view of the 2 islands, each with its own church. We did a sail past with lots of photos in the overcast conditions and then headed up to the North end of the bay for a look see.

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Then we pointed south and headed back 6nm to Kotor. The wind was on the nose and at one stage, managed to hit 40kts yet again. We decided against anchoring and instead pulled into the small marina that borders the old medieval town. We could literally step off the back of the boat and cross the road to the market outside the city walls. Perfect at 69 euro a night.

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Next morning we were off in a hire car to see this beautiful country. First stop was the capital where Dee had to visit the embassy to sign some papers. Getting there involved driving along a very scenic coastal highway before cutting inland through some awesome mountains before dropping down into a plateau with a large lake. Podgorica, the capital wasn’t much to write home about as it was pretty well flattened during the war. We briefly called into the Hard Rock Café to get some decent internet and then we were off.

Our first stop was the Ostrog Monastary, perched 900m above the Zeta Valley on the side of a cliff. We were two of the million people that visit here annually. It was built in 1665, God knows how (but then He would), its white building backs onto 2 large caves and is very impressive.

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We continued on our way along the narrow twisting and steep road back toward the Bay of Kotor. Driving down to the bay, we stopped and admired a huge waterfall that tumbled into the bay.

We checked out the beautiful seaside towns of Risan, with its Roman mosaics, and Perast, with its fine Captains’ Houses and waterfront restaurants. Perast has a great sea-faring past, evidenced by Peter the Great having sent some of his Russian naval officers there to study maritime science in his days as Russian Tsar.

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On the way back to the boat we passed numerous mussel farms and managed to find one that sold us 3kgs of very tasty mussels that we boiled up and consumed for dinner.

13240719_10205798353070941_3957962937690577915_nNext morning it was up and then up – to the top of the Castle of San Giovanni that overlooked the medieval town of Kotor. 1350 steps later (give or take), we were 1200m up overlooking the Bay of Kotor for some views to die for. The weather was starting to behave itself so we got some really good photos.

Then it was down to the car again for a drive out to Budva. We took the coast road out of Kotor, a narrow winding road along the side of the waters edge, until we got to Tivat and then the highway to Budva.

Budva was a really cool town. We parked and then walked along the boardwalk to the marina to check it out. Then we walked through the old city walls into the old town. Lots of cool shops and restaurants in the narrow walking streets. There was a castle on the point, which we went through and got some really good views from the top. Then down to the cool beach bars for the obligatory mojito or two.

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We finished the day off with a return visit to Porto Montenegro, the marina/glamor hub that La Mischief called into 3 years ago. We wandered the boardwalks through the trendy shops and restaurants and checked out some of the boats. Got told off for taking a picture of the THREE boats owned by His Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdul Azziz al Saud (there’s a mouthful) called Golden Odyssey, Golden Odyssey 2 and the support yacht Golden Shadow.image

Then it was back to Kotor to check out the celebrations for Montenegro’s “10 years of independence – 1000 years of culture” anniversary – pretty cool. Next morning we tried to check out but couldn’t find the harbour master. The guy from the Marina tried to call him without luck. Eventually we found him but it was getting too late to leave. What the heck, there’s worse things than another day in Kotor.

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So off we went on a long walk along the foreshore, stopping for a nice lunch of mussels and fish. It also provided us with a bit of shopping time (Dee) and a bit of blogging time (Steve).

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Next morning, we located the harbour master, checked out of Montenegro and we were off to Cavtat in Croatia.

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