Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Argostoli and transiting the Corinth Canal

Sunday, Oct 20, 2013 - Argostoli, Greece – the Capital of the Kefalonian island in the Ionian Sea. Put this on your bucket list. Today was a day that soothes the soul. It was lovely. Perfect weather, taxi driver who drove sensibly with a sense of humor, perfect sites uncrowded and interesting, nothing rushed and all exciting and new. Would highly recommend this island for a laid-back visit to a picture-perfect Greek island with incredible beaches and views, good food and interesting sites. There was a terrible earthquake here in 1953 that leveled most of the island, therefore, the town is relatively new. There are loggerhead turtles in the lagoon near the city (9,000 population). The Germans bombed here in 1943. Christos was our driver and off we went to the caves at Drogarati, near Sami. We were the only visitors at the time to this cave, a deep 300 feet below the land’s surface. Steep steps are probably why the ship does not offer a tour here. There is one large chamber and concerts have been held in here. The colors of the stalagmites and stalactites were all browns and vanilla. I have never seen so many hanging from the ceiling; so short and sharp. It was an interesting cave and very different from the next one. Melissani, caves of the Nymphs was magical! You walk down a sloped ramp to see the clearest water ahead of you. Small row boats are waiting to take around the lake, where the water is 115 feet deep in some areas. Crystal clear. You look above you to see the opening of a “cenote” with the open mouth of the cave leading to the blue sky, trees and brush. If you were walking and fell into this hole, what a fall it would have been. The stalactite date back 10,000 to 20,000 years. There is a small island, 100 feet long, in the middle of the cave and you pull yourself and the boat and occupants, along the side of the wall of the cave to get to the inner area that is a totally closed-in cave. The echoing is real and the crystal clear water is incredible. Archeological finds from the 3rd and 4th centuries BC were discovered here attesting to a cult of the God Pan. A number of female figures have also been found, the famous Nymphs. We were there at noon and the sunlight was perfectly straight down through the opening of the cenote and there were colorful rainbows as the oar hit the water! We drove through the mountains, which are so beautiful in themselves. I had the back windows open and you can hear the birds singing, the breeze was wonderful and the smells from the trees…you can “sense” the island as you are driven around. We had the most beautiful overlook of Myrtos Beach. You have to google this beach if my photo does not come through. Oh wow. What a quiet, pristine, basic, perfect beach. Between two large mountains, a windy road of 2+ miles to get down and then just you and the water . A small shop for some simple meals and then peace and quiet. Heading north, we passed Assos, where we saw a long brick wall (reminding me of the Great Wall in China) protecting a long forgotten fortress on this hillside. We were headed to the northern tip of the island, Fiskardo, one of the typically Greek fishing villages. It was lovely! The ferry leaves from there to go to the island of Ithaca and the marina is surrounded by fish restaurants and small shops. Lots of character in each dining venue as you walk on the cobblestones and view the deep blue water and across to the nearby island. Just lovely…We sat for a while to rest and enjoy the sights. We headed back to Argostoli via the western road through Petrikata, Riza and Kourouklata. The main bridge in town was destroyed during WWII and has still not been rebuilt. The driver spoke as if it had just happened recently… We wandered around town – they have a nice little toy train to take you through the streets. Most of the shops were closed at it is a Sunday afternoon and also the Patron Saint Day of the Island – St. Gerasimou. We worked from the port office and were the last ones onboard again…Arnel and the security officers are getting to know us! “Captain Corelli” movie was filmed on the island with Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz. The assistant cruise director, Ashley Edwards, had her own show in the Lounge “Chanteuse on the Loose” in a cabaret style. Monday, Oct 21, 2013 – Itea Delphi Greece – population of 9000 – can accommodate 250 yachts Itea is at the base of Mount Parnassos and located on the north shore of the Corinthian Gulf. We dock here for close access to the ruins of Delphi! Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world. This was a major site for the worship of the God Apollo after he slew Python, a dragon who lived there and protected the navel of Earth. Python is claimed by some to be the original name of the site. Apollo’s sacred precinct in Delphi was a panhellenic sanctuary, where every four years, from 586 BC, athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, one of the four panhellenic games, precursors of the Modern Olympics. The victors at Delphi were presented with a laurel crown which was ceremonially cut from a tree by a boy who re-enacted the slaying of the Python. Delphi is a vast site of incredible ruins over a hilly area and there is also a wonderful museum. It was another clear blue sky day with a nice warm sun at about 70 degrees. We rested on the ship and finally took the tender in to the town of Itea to stroll around as we had been to Delphi a few years ago. The Greek Orthodox church in this small town has several silver frames surrounding holy faces, icons and a beautifully decorated chandelier. There were two painters hand painting the very small symbols and shapes on the ceiling! It was so interesting to see how they rested a stick against the ceiling while they stood and then took their other hand with the very small paint brush and rested it against the stick in the other hand to steady them as they painted in very small areas. What patience. And what a mess if they make one little blob of the wrong color in the wrong area. Oh dear. We walked the streets and saw many homes or apartment buildings which had been started but never finished, due to the economic situation in Greece. The one large tourist shop (Agora) had an incredible inventory and were having a slow day…we mentioned we left a 2:30, not giving us a full day in Itea, and he said, “disastrous” – which to us meant he had not had much business. On the ship, we enjoyed a nice BBQ at the Sky Bar and a lecture by Robert Schonfeld on our next ports of call: Navplion, Mykonos and Rhodes. I enjoyed the solitude near the whirlpool in the front of the ship on Deck 5 in the “quiet zone”. Just prior to dinner we enjoyed what we consider a highlight of the cruise: transiting the Corinth Canal. Shortly before sunset, we started through with a small tug pulling us with two heavy ropes. He kept pointing “to the left” to the Captain and I guess they sorted it out. There are no locks. We had less than a meter on each side of us as we went through this very narrow canal. We sailed slowly through with the celebratory champagne and hot mulled wine – wonderful way to transit a canal…with soft (Latin- Not Greek??) music by the band behind us. The walls of the canal were shades of beige and there were a few bridges overhead. In only a few spots, folk were there to wave at us as we transited the canal. Goats scrambled up the side and the shepherd at the top sat and watched us sail by. It took just over an hour and by then it was dark, so we saw the end of the canal using the spotlights of the ship and it was beautiful. Very nice transit at the perfect time of day. This canal eliminates an additional 185 miles journey around the Peloponnese. Several rulers considered building a canal but never began the work. Nero finally started the work in AD 67. Vespasian dispatched 6000 Jewish prisoners of war from Judaea to begin the canal. In 1882, a French company revived the project to follow the same path as started by Nero. That firm went bankrupt. The canal was finally completed in 1893 by a Greek company. The canal is almost four miles long, 23 feet deep and 69 feet wide at the bottom of the canal and 81 feet at the top of the top of the canal. We ate privately in the dining room and enjoyed the good service and food. By then it was time for the 10PM “Liar’s Club” show and we all had a good laugh choosing which staff person had actually given us the correct definition of an unfamiliar word.