Follow by Email

Friday, October 23, 2015

GREEK MOUNTAINS ROAD TRIP

Envoy is currently in Lefkas marina, Greece, and we are in England.
During our recent visit to Lefkas we hired a car to visit some of the mainland’s mountain villages just an easy half a day’s drive north-west towards the Albanian border.
The great thing about driving in Greece and Italy is that every couple of miles there are stunning things to see – the natural rugged scenery, interesting villages and historical ruins – not only Greek but from the Roman and Turkish occupations. The not-so-great thing is sharing the roads with local drivers for whom speed limits and no passing zones represent a challenge not a restriction. You need to keep a constant lookout for drivers approaching you on the wrong side of the road as they overtake, expecting you as oncoming traffic to pull well over to avoid them. However I must say that we’ve not seen any accidents or cases of road rage. Greece has some superb toll motorways, where the speed limit ranges up to 130 km/hr, with spectacular viaducts bridging valleys and long tunnels piercing mountains - we drove through some up to 3 km long putting to shame anything we have home in New Zealand.
On the other hand when you leave the motorways and climb into the mountains, the roads are winding, narrow, potholed, mostly one-way through the villages and frequently shared with flocks of sheep and herds of goats.

The sheer walls of one of Lefkas's medieval castles

First stop for us was Papingo, high on the slopes of Mt Astraka, looming 2,436m above sea level, where we stayed in a traditional inn (see a previous Foodies comment). This is within a national park featuring rugged mountains, forests and rivers, although high on the mountain slopes the trees give way to stubby shrubs, rocks and slopes of scree. The hewn-stone village buildings with slate roofs blend with the landscape as if they were always meant to be there. This is a noted skiing area during the winter months.
Next we make a lunch stop at Ioannina – a bustling town built from the 6th century around the western side of Lake Pamvotis. Here the notorious Ottoman-Albanian ruler Ali Pasha ruled the larger area from a formidable, largely still-intact castle.

We found this incredibly interesting and rustic antique shop

We moved on to the village of Metsovo, using it as a base to visit the area’s highlight – the monasteries of Meteora, a word meaning “suspended in the air”, as the monasteries are built on seemingly inaccessible towering rock pillars. There is evidence of cave habitation here 23,000 years ago, but the first monasteries were built around the 12th century. Eventually they numbered 20 but today only six remain, each inhabited with less than 10 monks or nuns. In former times the monasteries could only be accessed by long wooden or rope ladders, or using wicker baskets lowered by hand-powered winches. But these days roads have been built to accommodate the lucrative tourist trade – as Diane said, “these nuns have got a right little earner going” as you pay for the entrance fee and then extra to visit certain areas. As Lonely Planet says – visiting two or three is probably going to suffice, but they sure are spectacular.

The hilltop monasteries of Meteora




Our last night was spent at the delightful seaside town of Parga with its incomparable harbour overlooked by what remains of an 11th century castle. Nearby there’s yet another of Ali Pasha’s many castles, but this one has only ruins left. Ottoman rule of Greece lasted nearly 400 years until 1821.

Parga waterfront scene

Looking down on Parga from Ali Pasha's castle

FOR FOODIES
In the Med countries we’ve visited so far the dynamics of most restaurants are quite different to what we’re used to at home. Most of them are operated by families who between them do the cooking, maitre de duties, waiting and clearing. Hardly any of them seem to employ chefs, although the larger ones employ additional waiting staff.
In Greece there are very large numbers of restaurants (called tavernas), particularly in tourist areas where they only open from about May through October and then close for the winter. Although we’ve always found the fare to be good and well-priced there is little variety from one to another. Home in New Zealand we’re used to a huge ethnic diversity of eateries but apart from the occasional Italian restaurant and an even rarer Chinese one, it’s all very much Greek. We always get a very courteous and friendly reception and menus are available in English. A custom we really like is that they always offer you something a little extra for free – typically an appetiser, a plate of dessert fruits, a round of wines or ouzo.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

MORE ABOUT ABOARD ENVOY IN LEFKAS MARINA

CORRECTION of last posting; Greeks can withdraw 60 Euros from the bank per day not 6 as mentioned.
I mentioned last posting there were no great technical surprises coming back aboard Envoy, but there’s a few things to mention:
- Normally when we return to Envoy the interior is exactly how we left her, but this time she was a bit dustier than usual as we’d had some fibre-glassing work done to repair a crack in the floor of the main shower, and a bit of grinding dust had spread through the boat – not bad though.
- We’d had a short circuit in our bow thruster 24V battery bank caused by cable connections working loose. This has resulted in one of the two Deka AGM batteries not holding charge and although these batteries are only a bit over three years old we’re needing to replace both of them as it’s not recommended to replace just one battery in a bank. Fortunately we can get these from the Deka dealer in Italy.
- For all of the time we’ve owned Envoy the aft stainless steel fresh water tank has leaked a little (less than 1 L/day) when filled above about half capacity. I removed an inspection hatch in the top of the tank and found its general condition to appear OK. Being empty, I gave the exposed surfaces of the tank a clean.
- Our domestic hot water tank has signs of corrosion on its outer galvanized steel protective cover (as opposed to the aluminium alloy water tank). This seems to have been caused by tiny leaks of fresh water from the input tap running onto the cover over a period of several years. The difficult to access exterior of the tap itself is coated with a thick layer of calcification resulting from the leak. The tank is working fine but Sailand are going to remove it for refurbishment.

Corrosion and calcification build-up on the cover of our water heater

Close up of corroded area - this has since been removed and reconditioned
t

- Last year we took our Toshiba laptop used for navigation back to New Zealand for repair as it kept shutting down. We got it repaired in Auckland and there it seemed to be OK, but now it’s doing the same again – it gets hot real quick and its two cooling fans aren’t working. So it’s back to NZ for repair once again!
- When leaving your boat for the winter the fuel tanks should ideally be over 80% full to reduce the chance of water ingress through condensation. Our four tanks are 25%, 46%, 70% and 90% full – so not ideal, especially considering our longer than expected absence. Envoy has a fuel “polishing” (ie filtration) system based on a 12V, 7L/min pump passing fuel through a magnetic DeBug device and a Racor filter. If any water or “bug” is present this should show up in the Racor’s clear bowl. I’ve polished a portion of the fuel from each tank, over 1,000L in total, being careful to avoid cross contamination and all seems to be OK.
While we were away from Envoy the local service company, Sailand did some work for us and I’ll detail that in another post, but next post we’ll skip the technicalities and talk about our road trip to the Greek mountains.

FOR FOODIES: Greek Salad – a salad sans greens.
Every single taverna and restaurant we’ve been to here offer a delicious Greek salad and they all seem to follow much the same formula. Normally the salad seems to be eaten before the main course.
A Greek salad is based on lots of coarsely chopped tomatoes. Greek and Italian tomatoes are big, sweet and juicy. Next in volume is medium thicknesses of sliced cucumber. Then add slices of red onions and green pepper. Fetta cheese is generally added as one large thick slice on top of the salad rather than as cubes mixed in. Lastly add some ground oregano, a generous quantity of olive oil and a little balsamic – there you have it.

A mouth-watering Greek salad

Thursday, October 08, 2015

BACK IN LEFKAS ABOARD ENVOY

Read our new Blog section below – FOR FOODIES.
Last November 2014 when we left our second home – our Nordhavn 46 “Envoy” in Greece’s Lefkas Marina, we expected to be back cruising by April this year. Unexpected circumstances prevented that and just last week we returned to Lefkas to check on Envoy, as part of a wider trip to visit our daughter in London and my brother and his wife in Scotland. We knew it was too late in the season to do any cruising – winter weather generally arrives by early November and it normally takes about two to three weeks to prepare Envoy and a week to winterize her after cruising. So this trip we’re using Envoy like a motel unit – to do some land-based exploration.
On arriving aboard Envoy up on the marina’s hardstand we found everything OK with no surprises - more on Envoy technically in next post.
Obviously Greece has featured a lot in the news recently with their financial crisis and the refugee issues. We arrived into Athens, spent one night there and then made the five hour bus trip to Lefkas.

This 16th century church is nestled in the basement of a new multi-story building in Athens

So far we haven’t seen any refugees or any visible signs of the crisis. We’ve no doubt that a lot of hardship does exist, but people are out and about, tavernas are bustling and several Lefkas shop owners told Di it has been one of their best seasons ever. But we have heard that Greeks can only withdraw six Euro per day from banks or ATMs. The areas where refugees are flooding into Greece are the islands adjacent to Turkey, such as Kos and Lesvos – a long way from here.
We hired a rental car for eight days to explore some inland areas we’ve not visited previously and will mention that in our next posting.

FOR FOODIES Yes “foodie” is a real word and refers to a person having an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of great food. During our unexpected sojourn home in New Zealand I took on three months consultancy work with some old friends. One of them, Vivienne, told me she regularly reads our blog, is not particularly interested in the technical stuff, but when we mention going into this or that “taverna” would like to hear more about what we eat. So this new section is dedicated to Viv, and we'll get it going properly when we come back to the Med next year.
While staying in the village of Papingo high on the slopes of Mt Astraka looming 2,436m above sea level we stayed in a traditional inn.

Papingo is set high in rugged mountains

We weren’t particularly hungry and opted for a simple three-course organic vegetarian dinner, which turned out to be stunning with all of the ingredients coming from the inn’s garden and surrounding fields:
- Zucchini salad: smallish light green zucchini sliced lengthways very thinly with a potato peeler, doused with finely-chopped phenyl, whole red pepper corns, olive oil mixed with lemon juice and garnished with sliced lemon
- Fried porchini mushrooms: porchini mushrooms are the ones with very ragged edges. Our host, Kostas, said they gather about 100kg of mushrooms every third day from the fields around the inn. These were served fried in olive oil and garlic, and garnished with rocket leaves and ground pepper.
- Green beans: coarsely sliced lengthways and lightly cooked in a tomato pasta sauce heavily diluted in olive oil. We’re definitely going to try and replicate this back home.
Of course this was complimented by obligatory glasses of passable local red and white wines at ridiculously low prices.

Our traditional taverna served organic vegetables fresh from their own garden

Trays of porchini mushrooms drying in the sun