From caves and castles, to canals and gondolas

Since my last update we’ve been exploring the northern Adriatic, from Zadar to the Istrian Peninsula, then across to Venice. The Bondy brothers joined Loki in Zadar. Apart from being a lovely old walled city, Zadar lays claim to a unique waterfront with a couple of unusual art installations designed by local architect Nikola Basic. Firstly, there’s the world’s first pipe organ that is played by the sea! The structure is seventy metres long and has thirty-five organ pipes built under the concrete. The wind and waves push air into the pipe organs producing rather random, but nonetheless harmonic sounds. It’s really about hearing rather than seeing the structure, so people loll about on the steps enjoying the somewhat hypnotic effect.  A few metres from the “Sea Organ” is the “Sun Salutation”, a 22 metre diameter circle made from 300 photovoltaic glass panels. The solar cells absorb energy from the sun then convert this into electricity, which is sufficient to light the entire waterfront at night. Very smart. At sunset the installation switches on a display of bright, colourful lights (which unfortunately we didn’t get to witness), which is connected to the Sea Organ. All very trippy apparently. The weather was quite rainy for part of our time in Zadar and from here we headed to the outer chain of the northern Adriatic islands stopping at Uglian, Veli Rat, Ist, Ilovik and Mali Losinj. A couple of days out of Zadar the weather cleared up again and we enjoyed some lovely walks on the islands. Many of the villages we visited are virtually carless, but their waterfronts are arranged in a somewhat higgeldy-piggeldy way, so that every little fishing boat seems to have it’s own private jetty. Or, there’s a concrete beach, where people pay money to hire a sun lounge. No wonder overseas visitors rave about Aussie beaches. We continued to enjoy the local food, including some of a rather tender suckling piglet. We then farewelled the Bondy boys before heading north to Cres then Opatije, on the mainland.

Whilst on the mainland we thought we’d take the opportunity to go inland and headed for Slovenia. This is a seriously lovely country.  At times you could be forgiven for thinking you are driving through the middle of a Walt Disney movie, with quaint castles and churches dotting the countryside. From Opatije we drove to Lubiana, via the famous Postojna Caves. The caves are an amazing network of over 20 kms of underground tunnels and galleries formed out of the limestone karst. The caves were formed about 4 million years ago as a result of underground water flow from the Pivka River. A trip on the tourist train lasts for an hour and a half and covers only about 4 kms, but is well worth the visit. The nearby, 700 hundred year old Predjama Castle is also a must see, built into the side of a vertical cliff. We particularly liked the story about the “robber barron”, the knight Erazem Lueger, who was held to siege in the castle in the 15th century, but used to duck out the back through a maze of secret passages that his would-be captors didn’t know about. He’d travel to the next village to get cherries that had ripened earlier than those outside his drawbridge, then would confound his adversaries by throwing ripened cherries upon them whilst they looked at the unripened fruits trees around them. They thought it was the devil’s work. Unfortunately he came to a messy end when they shot a cannonball into his crapper and was literally caught with his pants down. What a way to go! We then went up to Lubiana and Lake Bled, to complete the Slovenian tour of dragons, caves and castles before heading to Zagreb to meet up with the Sollys.

Having met up with Ben & Kath we then all headed back to Loki to explore the inner chain of the northern Adriatic. We had some lovely weather and memorable moments in Krk, Rab and southern Cres. We had to repel boarders when moored to the town quay in Krk at 0050hrs! (Yes, we remember when we were young once too). At Jadriscica our anchorage book advised us that if we wanted to go to the shop for supplies we’d need to strip off first as the campsite was a nudist colony. Hilarious! I dared Ben & Fitzy to nude-up, but they were too shy. Thankfully we managed to get bread anyway. The Sollys departed the vessel at Artaturi, Losing and from there we headed up to Pula at the bottom of the Istrian Peninsula to catch up with Donald and Judy. Pula has been continuously inhabited for twenty-three centuries, so it’s no surprise to find a Roman amphitheatre smack-bang in the middle of town. But they also have a hip vibe with a nightly light-show featuring their waterfront industrial cranes.

Our final leg was “Goodbye Croatia, Hello Venice”. We managed to find a marina on Certosa Island that was four vaporetti (waterbus) stops, and about 15 minutes, from St Mark’s Square. When we arrived the weather was calm and there wasn’t much shipping traffic around so we couldn’t resist the temptation to sail up to the Grand Canal and St Mark’s Square. It was slightly frenetic with all the vaporetti, water-taxis, gondolas and whatever else running about, but we just had to do it! What a fabulous place for doing our boat pack-up and winterising. The last time we were there was 26 years ago; I’d forgotten how impossibly gorgeous Venice is. Lucky, lucky me……I spent my birthday there. We toured St. Mark’s Basilica (the mosaics are simply astounding) and the Doges Palace (one can’t help thinking of “The Merchant of Venice” as you traipse through one ornate room after another). I thought I saw Fitzy’s eyes watering whilst he was looking at the chastity belt on display in the armoury. Our timing also coincided with the Venice Biennale, so managed a visit there as well. As beautiful as Venice is, they still have their problems with high tides. I took a kayak tour of the canals and our guide told us they’ve spent 6 billion (dollars or euro?) thus far on a flood control system that doesn’t work. If it’s on your bucket list, go and see Venice before it sinks! An added bonus was catching up with the Sollys again one evening, complete with our silly hats!

We are now at Marina Sant’ Andrea, which is about as far north as you can go in the Adriatic. 45 degrees 45’ 70”N, 13 degrees 14’ 50” E is Loki’s home for the winter. After four and a half months away, six countries and 1819 nautical miles shared amongst 17 visitors, it’s time to come home! We’ve had a fab time cruising, but there’s nothing quite like home, so really looking forward to catching up with family and friends really soon.

Ciao,

Kate

 

Dobra dan from Croatia

It’s no surprise that Dubrovnik is one of the locations that features in “The Game of Thrones”. It’s a stunning old walled city. But I must say, I still get the heebie geebies when I walk under some of these old Medieval town gates and remember that this was where people used to hurl boiling oil down on uninvited guests all those years ago.

Dubrovnik City Walls
Dubrovnik City Walls

We’d been advised to get into town early to walk around the walls of the old town before all the tourists arrived, so left the boat at 7:30am to beat the crowds. Alas, the cruise ships were already docked in Gruz harbour and the Port of Dubrovnik website informed us that the four ships carried in excess of 8,000 passengers! We managed a pleasant walk along the walls, but the town was overrun by 10am. The 14th century cloister within the walls of the Franciscan Monastery provided a pleasant respite from the hubbub outside. Thankfully the next day there was only one ship which arrived later in the morning, so we had a better opportunity to have a good look around.

It’s hard to believe that it was only 1991-1992 when this town was having the “bejesus” bombed out of it. We noticed one building where a local artist still has posters on the outside of his house sharing his experiences of the day the shelling started, including him in front of his bombed-out house wearing a kitchen pot on his head. Today the house is restored to it’s former glory, as is the rest of the town. Approximately two-thirds of the roofs have been replaced. Thankfully Dubrovnik has been rebuilt using traditional materials and techniques, so the grand old Gothic-Renaissance palaces and buildings are still there. We’ve also been enjoying the local food & wine, particularly “prsut” (the Croatian answer to Prosciutto).

We welcomed the Dowdneys aboard at Korcula and they got into relax mode fairly quickly. We found an anchorage at the top of the island of Scedro, which felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, where an enterprising fellow came around in his put-put boat with cheeses, wines, olive oils and some rather “interesting” liqueurs. After tasting a few samples we weren’t tempted to buy, but did place an order for some fresh bread and croissants, which Filip duly delivered to our boat the next morning. From there we headed out to Vis to catch up with Lyn and David M, who regularly cruise in Croatia. There was a good catch up had by all and it must have been very hot because there were rather a lot of refreshments drunk! Lyn and David very generously shared their local knowledge with us, including hidden restaurants in what sometimes look like unpopulated bays. Thanks guys!

We had some time in Split, the second largest city in Croatia, before we farewelled the Dowdneys. Best known for the fortified Roman Palace, constructed for the emperor Diocletian around 300AD, today it’s a living town with people, bars, shops and restaurants all packed inside what’s left of the Roman ruins. The Basement Halls mirror the floor plan of the original palace that was once above and are said to be the most complete, well-preserved Roman ruins of their size anywhere in Europe. Split is full of loads history, gorgeous old buildings, and some vibrant street art. Look into a darkened alley and you might also see a little cove with a votive candle where locals stop and take a moment for quiet reflection. The 10th century Gregarious of Nin is honoured with a massive statue and the view from the belfry of the Cathedral of Domnius is worth the climb.

Ernie & Maria caught up with us at Trogir. We had a few days cruising the islands nearby, including Brac and Hvar, the latter of which I’ve heard described as “the St Tropez of the Adriatic”. The mega-yacht with the helicopter on the upper deck certainly looked the part. Hvar Town is a small but seriously busy harbour. We were lucky to get one of the inner mooring boys after arriving mid-morning only to be told there was no space. Stooging around for a bit paid off and we swooped in when the opportunity presented itself.

After the hustle and bustle of Hvar we set off to the Kornati Islands for a few days. It’s hard to believe that these islands were once covered with thick forests given their barren, if not lunar, appearance today. There were a couple of disastrous fires in the 17th & 19th centuries which have destroyed all but a handful of remaining trees. We discovered that, here particularly, the Italians are very fond of getting their gear off. Unfortunately there’s not much eye candy about, as the people who most usually do so are the ones that probably should not! We then hooked up with Simon & Gabby at Sibenik, before we ventured inland up the Krka River to visit the National Park and famous Krka Falls. Just off the coast from Sibenik are a number of carless islands with small, stone-built fishing villages where it feels a little as if time has stood still. We farewelled Simon & Gabby at Kaprije.

We thought Greece could put on a pretty good light show, but found out that Croatia is right up there too when it comes to thunderstorms. We had an absolute doosey last night. The local weather site showed over 1,000 lightening strikes in half an hour, with a number of those in reasonably close proximity to us. We knew it was windy when the boat started heeling over and the chairs were sliding across the floor whilst were we at anchor! (We usually only bolt them in when we’re sailing). This time the dingy was lashed securely to the deck, so no further aeronautic displays there, thank goodness! Pleased to say the anchor held firm and we eventually got to sleep. We are now continuing north and have arrived in Zadar where we’ll catch up with the Bondy brothers. Hope everything is good at your end. Don’t forget to drop us a line and tell us what’s been happening with you.

Cheers,

Kate

P.S. Remember to click on the blue link at the very bottom of the email notification to go to my blog page if you want to see the images.

From Old Bones to Alpine Berries

As we travel around the Med we regularly see reminders of the fact that people in these parts haven’t always gotten along terribly well together. But the “memorial” in the Cathedral at Otranto is one that takes the cake. As is so often the case, religion was the reason for the slaughter. The muslims besieged the Christian town in 1480 and were fought off by the locals for 15 days before they caved in. The eight hundred that survived were then beheaded for refusing to convert. The Chapel of the Dead has the bones of those slain neatly arranged in display cases. Slightly macabre. Why can’t people just live and let live? (Even today?)

Otranto was our port of entry into Itlay, before we headed up the coast to Brindisi, Monopoli, then Bari to meet up with my brother Peter and sister-in-law, Martine. (This is in between the toe and the ball of Italy’s foot). Great fun to have them on board, as we seldom get to catch up with the Londoners. We hired a car and spent a day driving through some of the pretty towns in Puglia. Polignano a Mare sits atop craggy cliffs looking out over the Adriatic, whilst the locals all pack onto the weeny pebble beach to soak up the sun. Locorotondo has quiet, pedestrianised streets paved with smooth ivory-coloured stones and abundant planter boxes adding a snap of colour here and there. Along the way we visited Alberobello, another UNESCO World Heritage site, with the beehive-shaped “trulli” houses. We then headed north to Trani, another old walled town, where we took in the local sites and provisioned before setting off on an overnight crossing of the Adriatic. No wind. Motored all the way.

Our port of entry in Montenegro was at Budva, where yet again we enjoyed strolling through the well-preserved old town full of rabbit warren lanes. We cruised up the coast to the Bay of Kotor, stopping at Herceg Novi and Risan, before continuing up to Kotor town. Had a bit of a dingy adventure along the way when our dingy decided to cartwheel during a 40 knot gust whilst were were anchored. Luckily the rope on the dingy anchor was of the floating variety, so we were able to retrieve the anchor and tackle, but alas, the oars were gone and the outboard was decidedly unhappy. Fitz did a good job of cleaning the outboard and managed to get it going again.

During our stay in Kotor it was Martine’s birthday. We felt very virtuous having started the day climbing the 1350 steps up to the top of the town walls, some 260 metres above sea-level, for spectacular views over the harbour. Enjoyed a day sailing on the Bay of Kotor with gentle breezes and wouldn’t you know it, Fitzy took the dingy for a spin and managed to locate our lost oars! Knowing his love of nicknacks, I saw something the other day that looked really appropriate, a sailor throwing his anchor away. I’m sure I can find room for it somewhere onboard. There’s a theme emerging about Fitzy, the dingy and things going AWOL.

That evening we enjoyed a very smart bottle of champagne Peter had brought from London to help Martine celebrate her birthday. During our pre-dinner drinks on deck our Russian neighbour noticed the birthday balloons and very generously presented Martine with another very nice bottle of champagne. Ten minutes later he reappeared with a bottle of Chivas Regal. “The champagne was for the women. This is for the men!” Note to self: birthday balloons are a good lurk when moored next to super-yachts!

Next day we hired a car to take a look inland and visited the Ostrog Monastery, built into a cliff face 900 metres above the Zeta valley. Millions of Orthodox Christians make the pilgrimage annually, particularly to the impressive Upper Monastery, and to where the bones of Saint Basil lay wrapped up in a coffin.

Montenegro seems to embody the split in the Roman Empire with Catholic and Orthodox churches almost equally popular. Up until 1918 it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, so as with many parts of Europe it has known many masters, including fifty years of Communist rule. The old town of Kotor is a lovely place to spend a few days wandering around the narrow, carless streets, taking in the ancient Venetian palaces. The winged Lion of Saint Mark, the emblem of the Venetians greets you as you arrive at the Sea Gate to the town. Trolleys and carts are the favoured mode of transport. Local fishermen can be observed cleaning their mussels at the bottom of the town’s fortifications. Opposite where we were moored was a fabulous market with fresh fruit, veg, fish, meat & cheeses, etc. We loved the tiny alpine berries sold in recycled pickle jars. Sweet and tart at the same time!

We farewelled Peter and Martine in Kotor, and said goodbye to Montenegro the next day. We are now in Croatia and the Dowdneys joined us a couple of days ago. They seemed to have settled into relax mode quite well! More on that next post.

We’ve been hearing it’s cold in Melbourne, so hope those at home are keeping rugged up. Don’t forget to drop us an email or a blog comment to let us know what’s happening at your end. We’d love to hear from you. Hope you are keeping safe & well wherever you are.

Ciao for now,

Kate

Crisis? What Crisis?

We enjoyed a couple of weeks island-hopping across the Aegean, this time heading west. Yep, it’s still a windy place! Left Samos and headed for Fournoi, then Mykonos, Syros, Kythnos, Hydra and Ermioni on the mainland. Mykonos was memorable for both arrival and departure – just really windy and an appalling marina. We spent a bit of time on Syros, with it’s lovely island capital of wide stone-paved streets and winding alleyways. Hydra will always be remembered for being pillaged by rapacious Italian pirates (even the other Italians in the bay apologised on their behalf!) But all in all, we enjoyed the islands and a few spirited sailing days, making good distances. Alan W departed Loki at the island of Poros, before we headed back through the Corinth Canal.

The Corinth Canal is an amazing feat of engineering. It’s 3.2 miles long, 25 metres wide, with the sides of the canal rising to 76 metres at the highest part. Being so narrow, traffic only goes in one direction at a time, so you have to book to arrange to transit the canal. Before it was built ships were carted up and over this land. The canal construction was first  attempted by the Roman Emperor Nero, but after many false starts it wasn’t completed until 1893. Today they still take quite big ships through, up to a width of 17.6 metres.

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Found a lovely little village on the northern shore of the Gulf of Corinth, Galaxidi. Rich in maritime history, but somewhat left behind since the world moved on to steamships. It’s a very quaint harbour less than 3 hours drive from Athens or about 6 hours sailing from the western end of the Corinth Canal. It is a good place from which to visit the ancient site of Delphi. Where else can you arrange to have a hire-car delivered from the next town for the following morning, through the local bee-keeper, whilst having dinner?

The sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi is set in a stunning mountainside location at the foothills of Mount Parnassos. For many centuries it was the centre of the ancient Greek world. It was from here that the Oracle would make various proclamations about assorted matters of great importance. Although signs of habitation date back to 14thC BC, the sanctuary became established around 8th-7th century BC. Very old rocks indeed! At this point we farewelled Tim and continued on to the Ionian.

There’s no shortage of beautiful anchorages in the Ionian. Cephalonia, Ithaca, Lefkada, Meganisi and Corfu are probably the best known islands, but there are plenty of other gems as well. Some have dreamy turquoise beaches as a result of the adjoining limestone cliffs, with seriously blue water. If you want to charter a yacht in Greece, this is the place to be. Flat water, reasonable shelter from the prevailing nor’ westerlies, blue sea and sky, it doesn’t get much better. Loads of places to find a taverna ashore for a mid-morning frappe or an evening meal. Crisis? What crisis? There doesn’t appear to be any kind of Greek tragedy going on here. That said, we haven’t been to Athens where we hear there are buses of riot-gear clad police on standby.

Lefkada was once attached to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, until the Corinthians decided to construct a canal back in 650 BC, which turned Lefkada into an island. The modern Greeks have worked out that if they maintain their status as an island they continue to get special government grants and tax concessions so they have a “ferry boat” which is actually a floating/lifting/swinging bridge that opens every hour to let water-borne traffic through. Navigation here can be a bit interesting. They were dredging when we went through, making it just a bit squeezy, but we’d checked it out the day before so knew what we were in for. Managed to negotiate the shifting sands without incident, thankfully. Levkas town has some unique architecture as a result of the devastating 1948 earthquake. In the island capital many buildings are built in a “quake-proof” style with the second story made out of sheet metal or corrugated iron, either pastel colours or brightly painted. Even the town clock is earthquake-proof.

Q. So what do you get when you cross a Greek Island with a Russian oligarch? A. Jacqui O’s slightly run-down beach shack. Skorpios Island, which was once owned by Onassis, has since been bought by the 24 year old daughter of a very rich producer of potassium fertiliser. My how the rich and famous have changed! On the south side there’s a tiny cove where Onassis built a small beach house so Jacqui could get away from it all. Today you can sail right past it, but the rest of the island is completely off limits.

 

We’ve spent the last few days in Corfu, trying to remember that it is in fact a Greek island. Having been inhabited by the Corinthians, Romans, Byzantines, Goths, Venetians (those guys knew how to do a good fortress!), the French and then the English before reverting to Greece, the architecture here is very different from the other Greek islands we’ve been to. There are some very grand buildings with colonnaded promenades and cricket is still played on The Esplanade greens every week.

Today we are sailing to Nisis Othoni, which will be our last port of call in Greece. Tomorrow we head for Italy. So that’s it for now. Don’t forget to click on the blue link at the very bottom of the email notification to go to my blog page with all the images.

Hope all is good with you and yours.

Bye for now,

Kate

One for the bucket list

If there’s one thing you should do (if you haven’t already) before you shuffle off this mortal coil, it’s take a dawn ride in a hot air balloon across the spectacular Cappadocian landscape. We had six fabulous days in Cappadocia, but the highlight was soaring through the valleys and across the unique volcanic rock formations known as “fairy chimneys”. There must have been 80-100 balloons in the air the morning we flew (too many to count), adding to the marvellous scenery. The skilled pilots fly you right into the valleys, then out again. Balloon “kisses” are not uncommon!

Having viewed the landscape from the air we also trekked through some of the valleys to get a worm’s eye view of the fairy chimneys. The locals made dovecotes within these structures so they could collect guano for fertiliser. Also to be found are the many rock-hewn churches carved into the fairy chimneys. Many still have colouful frescoes, but others are a bit delapidated. Exploring these churches is a bit like being inside a giant block of Swiss cheese. Rose Valley, Red Valley, Ihlara Valley, Love Valley (named for the phallic-like formations) are all worth a look and you can poke around inside many of these churches along the way. The Goreme Open Air Museum is also a must see. The complex is made up of chapels, churches and monasteries, some which date back to the 10th-12th centuries.

Another highlight in Cappadocia is a visit to one of the underground cities carved out of the soft volcanic rock. We visited Derinkuyu which is a maze of tunnels and assorted “rooms” over 8 levels. The complex housed cellars, wine and oil presses, chapels, etc, and extended to a depth of approximately 85m. The city was large enough to provide shelter for 20,000 people along with sufficient food stores and animals to keep them going for quite some time. Such cities we used by early Christians to hide from marauding Roman soldiers, then later from Arab Muslims, where they’d hide until it was safe to come out. They built an elaborate security system that could ingeniously seal off the city using a system of massive stone doors rolled across the tunnel entrances. Indiana Jones eat your heart out!

We found the government funded carpet-making school interesting, seeing how they harvest silk from the silk worm cocoons. Managed to resist the temptation to buy a carpet for Loki. Of course we couldn’t leave Turkey until we’d seen a Whirling Dervish performance. It’s amazing they’re not completely giddy after all that spinning!

We then farewelled Turkey and cleared into Greece at Samos. Whilst in Samos we took the ferry down to Patmos for the day, well known as the place where St John is said to have lived in a cave whilst writing the Book of Revelation in AD 95. The fortress-like Patmos monastery crowns the hill of the Hora. It was built in honour of St John in 1088 and is one of the most sacred Christian sites in the world.  A visit to both the cave and the monastery, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, is obligatory. The monastery museum houses a collection of religious art, relics, vestments and numerous original parchment manuscripts, some dating back to 1073. On first pass you could be forgiven for thinking all are printed documents, but as the printing press wasn’t invented until 1440 this is obviously not the case for the older ones. They are so meticulously crafted and illustrated its hard to believe these were created so long ago. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside.

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Hope all is good with you and yours. We’re keen to hear your news so please drop us a line and tell us what’s been happening with you. You can either post comments on the blog page or send either of us an email.

Yassas!

Kate