Agios Nickolias – Crete
We had really no idea where we were heading to after leaving Egypt, with a choice of Cyprus, Turkey or Greece. It was dependant on the weather and the problem of the Shengen visas which only allow 90 days in most countries of the EU in any 180 day period. continue reading …. Both Cyprus and Turkey are not in Shengen so it would have been good to visit them first but the winds were sending us Greece bound. 400nm miles later and we rocked up at Agios Nickolias on the stunning island of Crete. The first morning we woke up to the sound of Church bells rather than the The Call to Prayer and we knew we were definitely in Europe. It was different, the climate was not tropical any more and we even slept under a doona for the first time in 3 years. When I was here thousands of light years ago, it was a small town relatively untouristy. Not now – I was surprised how many thousands of people visit this part of the Med and how the town caters for them. Bars, restaurants, clothes shops, car hire etc dominate the main areas and different languages invade your ears…. We were surprised at the mix though as 99% seemed to be European. With a relatively short season, it’s only sensible that everyone does their bit and makes hay while the sun shines … literally.
With the check in sorted, the taxes paid, the internet purchased and some fresh vegs in the fridge we went looking for some info on the Med and a chandlers to replace our flares and fire extinquishers. We found the bible of cruising this area – “The Greek Water Pilot” and made a rough plan of our route.
Greece is divided into 10 regions, Crete being one of them. With only 3 months we don’t have time to see them all so have decided to concentrate on just 6. Crete, The Dodecanese, The Cyclades,The Eastern Peloponese, The Gulf of Patras and Gulf of Corinth, The Eastern Sporades and The North Ionian. We will still not see half of what we want to see but we can have a great time trying..
Crete is the largest of the Greek island and seems to have a different vibe and they call themselves Cretans before Greeks. They were occupied by the Germans during WW2 and the young men fled to the hills hiding in the caves forming a Cretan resistance. There is a mountain range running across Crete which is snow capped during the winter months and the land is rocky and dry but they manage to produce lots of vegetables and olives by the ton. In fact there are goats and olive trees everywhere. The water is crystal clear and quite trash free but I nearly died of shock when I jumped in – it was 22° and freezing…. We have become too used to Asian and African temps unfortunately! It really reminded me of home with all the oleanders, bouganvillia and hibiscus everywhere.
We spent a few days exploring, testing the wines -, they even had wine tasting in the supermarket and you could purchase 2 litres of your chosen wine – very nice. We hired a car to go round Crete and once off the beaten track it seemed like time had stood still with the oldies sitting in the shade in their black clothes, the young men fixing stuff outside their tiny workshops and the women shopping and chatting in the local shops. The steep streets were all decorated and built so beautifully that everywhere we turned we wanted to take a picture. Goats roamed the hillside and there were olives trees clinging to the rocky landscape somehow managing to get enough water to thrive.
As usual Mr wind was mean to us and we had to leave earlier than planned if we wanted to get north to pick up Steph and Ameneh on 23rd, so we we opted to go and see Santorini, arguably the most famous island in Greece. Santorini is actually shaped a bit like a right kidney and is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history. It left a huge caldera (crater) to the west with the island itself rising majestically up out of the water. Its crescent like shape gives stunning views over the caldera which thousands of tourists enjoy every day. The two main towns are literally built into the cliff face and are a photographer’s dream. We actually anchored in the south away from the crowds and bussed into the centre. At first we were put out by the sheer number of tourists but this was Santorini -, what did we expect??? We adored the views and architecture, found a hardware shop, bought a high pressure water washer (got to grab these things when you see them,) and hightailed it back to Akrotiri. The next day we sailed in the Caldera and marvelled at the fact that we were sailing in a water filled volcanic crater.
With the north winds coming we decided after a few days to head East. We spent a couple of days exploring and found ourselves on Astispalaia. I had never heard of this place but it was magical. It was like Santorini without the crowds. A town built up the hillside, completely white, with a castle on the top of the hill overlooking the water to protect the people from pirates. The upper town, the Chora, had spread out from the castle, down the hillside until it reached the small perfect protected bay. All the roads zigzagged up the hill with small skinny flights of steps for the energetic. We walked right to the top and wondered how the elderly could possibly live in a place as steep as Astispalaia. It was just beautiful and very few tourists. We did find an Australian expat working in the local supermarket-, she was born and bred in Perth but married a Greek guy and moved to Astispalaia 25 years ago. I don’t blame her – its a pretty special place.
While we were here we met a lovely English couple who kept their boat in Greece and came out a couple of times a year. They really knew the place and we had gained lots of knowledge while having drinks with them. We hired a car together and set off to explore the island. It was a fun day, we found a tiny hamlet on the water at the mouth of an amazing inland lake – no town as such just a few fishing boats, the obligatory taverna and of course a few goats. The gem of the day was the place we had lunch in though – another smallish bay with a small town and a few trendy restaurants with ridiculous prices to match so we wandered down until we found a rather quieter, plainer restaurant that was empty. An elderly gentleman came out and told us it was his restaurant and that his wife was away and that he was on his own so service may be a bit slow! We had the best meal for a fraction of the price and he was so sweet – another table filled up and a lady appeared from nowhere and started serving. He told us he was the original restaurant in town and he was 73 and enjoyed it so wasn’t going to retire yet…
We liked it so much we sailed round and had dinner there the next night…
The next stop was an island that has a live volcano crater on it. Never having been into a live crater before we thought it would be fun so we arrived at the island of Nysiros and did our first med moor. This is the way they manage to squeeze as many boats into a small quay as possible. You anchor about 60m from the quay, stop the boat and throw a line to someone who puts it round large cleat, chucks it back to you and you tie off whilst being held off the quay by your anchor. A bit hairy the first time but a clever way of doing it. Most quays have water and power but this one didn’t and was free. We hired a motorbike the next day and set off for the crater. It was fun to be back on a bike and because the island is so small there were very few cars. When we got there we had the whole crater to ourselves but couldn’t find any smoke and it looked pretty dead to us. We were lucky as about half an hour later 10 busloads of visitors arrived and swarmed all over it.
We had lunch and a glass of wine in a village at the top of the island where the mobile shop would weigh your fruit and veg on the street as it was too steep to get the produce up the winding roads. A lovely day..
We set off next for the island of Kos to catch up with our friends Tina and Mark from the Indonesian rally. We hadn’t seen them for over 2 years so it was lovely to hear all their news. We went to the next town along to get our transit logs stamped and then proceeded to spend a couple of hours waiting for the bus that never came…. we had drinks on Thinking of Dave that night and dinghied into the beach to have dinner. We parted ways the next day as they had to get up to the Ionian and we set sail for Kalymnos. We will catch up again next year in Italy.
We headed north to the islands of Kalymnos and Leros staying a few nights on each. Leros was delightful and we caught up with Helen and Mike again for a meal before they headed back to the UK to escape the Summer crowds in Greece. We found the best chandlers since Australia and Ian was like a kid in a toy shop – the basket was overflowing by the time he had finished. From Leros we headed to Mykonos to catch up with Proud Cat.
We arrived at lunchtime and anchored in the relatively empty bay just outside the main area of Mykonos and jumped in the dinghy to go and see Mike who we hadn’t seen for a couple of months as we went to Jordan and he went to Turkey. While we were on board we watched a charter boat come and foul our anchor and get their chain wrapped round it. Ian had to go over and sort out the mess and explain to the guy that he needed to go a lot further out. Luckily we were watching as he would have just left and we would have drifted off. We then had to re-anchor but the problem was no space as the anchorage was filling up fast with people wanting to spend the night in Mykonos. 30 mins later we watched again as a 52ft Lagoon charter boat came and anchored literally 20ft from us. Ian got into the dingy again and asked them to move – they refused and yelled some French obscenities at him. They were in their dinghy going to shore and took off and Ian followed them to try and get them to move but he gave up following them and came back. We couldn’t now go anywhere as we were worried we were going to be hit. About half an hour later the Lagoon did start dragging and the skipper who was still on board moved it over to the other side of the bay. Charterers – they are starting to really get on our nerves.
Mykonos is THE island in Greece for holidaymakers who want fun. It is gorgeous – hundreds of winding streets, all white buildings with flowers everywhere, fantastic artwork and quaint little flights of steps which lead to little houses tucked into the hillside but……. it is so crowded. Hundreds of people all crammed into the foreshore and back streets all looking for that illusive souvenir or something to eat. We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and so we started climbing up to get some space. We came across a family sitting on their doorstep eating dinner, who thought we may be lost! We found out that the couple lived in New York for 6 months a year and the elderly ladies were their aunts who had never left Mykonos. We shared a beer with them, swapped life stories and found out about life on Mykonos behind the tourism.
The next day I wasn’t at all well so we headed into Mykonos to find a Dr. During our visit the wind came up and we got a desperate text from Mike saying the 52ft Lagoon had dragged across the anchorage, missed Indian Summer but was hitting the reef. He had dinghied over to her, jumped on board, started her engines and got her safely off. The skipper then came back and was cross someone was on his boat!! Our dinghy was being swamped on the beach and he couldn’t help because the Lagoon had taken a couple of boats anchors out and they were dragging all over the place. It was pandemonium…. We were with the Dr when all this news came in and as I was having trouble walking he sent us back to the bay in an ambulance! We then couldn’t get the dinghy out as it was too rough so Mike came in and threw us a line. It was a relief to be back on board and we left immediately – too much excitement for one day. Mike did a brilliant job saving the Lagoon but 2 boats in the anchorage were surprised and asked him why he went – I don’t think they were cruisers and owned the boats they were sitting on!
Onward to Delos…..