Greece Trip 2000

Athens (8/29 - 8/30)

We flew from Hartford to Washington/Dulles to Munich (beautiful airport) and then finally to Athens. We converted some traveler's checks to drachmas and took a quick taxi ride to our hotel, Sheraton's Grande Bretagne. First impressions of Athens: it's a cross between Cairo and Rio. Like Rio, it's on the water, and tall buildings on the wide, busy street along the shore overlook the ocean. But the rest of Athens is like a hilly Cairo -- drab buldings, crazy drivers, and a completely foreign language. And just like the pyramids are casually on view from the highway in Cairo, the Acropolis is there in the midst of the city. We unpacked, got our bearings and walked to the Acropolis, passing the Theatre of Dionysos and the Odeion of Herodes Atticus on the way. The Acropolis was built 2,500 years ago and consists of the Propylaea, the Temple of Nike, the Parthenon, the Erechtheum, and the Acropolis Museum. We finished our Acropolis visit by sitting in the shade of olive trees to enjoy a granita.

We met Dimitri Karasava (our contact for the boat we had arranged to charter) in the hotel bar for drinks and mezedes that evening and finalized our contract, discussed our sail plan and talked about some of the boat's operations. Dimitri gave us a ride to the Plaka afterwards, where we shopped and strolled until 11pm and then headed back to Sintagma Square where we sat on a bench in the warm moonlight and people-watched while we unwound.

Lefkas via Preveza airport (8/30 - 8/31)

In the morning, we got up early and headed to the Central Municipal Market while Athenians were commuting to work. It was very much a working market, with row after row of white-aproned butchers hacking meat of every variety. In addition to the rows of meat were rows of fish, fruit, spices and house wares. Sprinkled among the stalls were shops were cheeses and deli meats as well as a handful of restaurants. Spilling out of the market building were still more stalls. Lots of olive vendors, selling a dozen different varieties. Using Mike's GPS, we were able to easily wind back to our hotel along narrow, mazelike shopping streets. We stopped at a bakery and got some breakfast, then ate in Sintagma Square, watching people pour in and out of the metro stop.

After breakfast we returned to the hotel to pack, and then left for the airport.

We arrived at Preveza airport in the early afternoon and after a short taxi ride we arrived in Lefkas Harbor. We met Yannis Kougioumtzis and did a quick boat checkout (review of the inventory list, rundown on how the boat works), and got tips on where to provision and eat dinner.

Afterwards we explored Lefkas town and the town center, hidden up tiny side streets only a few blocks away. We took our time deciding where to eat, finally settling on Oivouayeiqeiov Taverna, in a picturesque alley filled with tables -- and cats! We were sold on the friendliness of the manager and the quick invitation to see the dishes in the kitchen. We enjoyed an excellent appetizer of feta cheese with olive oil in, on, and around it and a sprinkling of chopped oregano - delicious eaten with bread. Mike ordered lamb and potatoes and Cheri had pork souvlaki and some great french fries. For dessert, out waiter recommended something "special" and said we didn't have to pay if we didn't like it. "It" was a plate of fried balls of dough that you dipped in honey and chopped nuts. (We paid.) The waiter insisted that we have ouzo with our dessert to truly be a part of Greece, and brought us two shot glasses for free. The first sip tasted like Nyquil (no kidding!) and burned all the way down. We quickly realized it's not in your best interest to sip ouzo and chugged it down in large gulps. The drinks had gone very well with the smooth sweetness of the honey in our dessert, and when he saw that we'd enjoyed them, our waiter brought refills! We gulped them down quickly and were surprised at how much smoother the second try was. Cheri could see liking ouzo.

The evening was spent planning the next day's trip and charting the course (327 North for 31 Nautical Miles).

Parga (8/31 - 9/2)

To head north from Lefkas Harbor, we had to pass through a narrow canal. The bridge across the canal opens every hour on the hour, for only 10 minutes, so to make the 8:00 AM opening, we started warm-up and boat preparation at 7:30 AM. We left on schedule, went through the narrow canal and made Parga Harbor by 2:00 PM.

We anchored off and spent a lazy afternoon on the boat, swimming and snorkeling. We took the dinghy to shore for dinner at Mare Nostrum, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the beach. After an excellent appetizer of grilled octopus, Mike had lamb chops and Cheri had a tomato and a green pepper, each stuffed with rice and ground meat. Mike had baklava and Cheri tried the yogurt with honey she'd read about -- fantastic! In her bowl were three scoops of yogurt the texture of cheesecake, with honey drizzled all over them. Quite refreshing.

The next morning, we used the galley for the first time to make tea and scrambled eggs for breakfast. We took the dingy to shore and walked along the beach (topless) and climbed the steep hill to the Venetian castle (built in 1624) overlooking our cove and the town. After poking around the castle, we meandered the cobblestone streets of Parga, eventually winding our way down the hill to the port. We strolled up and down the waterfront, stopping for drinks and people-watching.

We returned to the boat and watched as the weather went from bad to worse. The winds built up to 30 knots with 5 foot waves (from the south). We skipped dinner and did an all night anchor watch. What a long night!

Paxi, Gaios Harbor (9/2 - 9/4)

Fortunately our front bruce anchor held on the grassy bottom and we awoke the next morning to a calm day with blue skies. We headed West on a course of 240 -- Mike's navigation plan took us straight across 15 miles of open water and landed us at exactly the entrance to the harbor! By noon we were tied to the dock, bow anchor secured in the channel, and ready for the short walk to the dozens of shops and tavernas in Gaios. We enjoyed pork gyros for lunch (sans the pita), then meandered back to the boat and lazed away the siesta time, returning to town for dinner. After much strolling about, we settled on Taka Taka, one of several tavernas up a side street. Our appetizer of taramosalata (hummus-like dip made with cod roe) was wonderfully refreshing. They also brought us a dip they make for festivals -- also hummus-like, but made with pureed potatoes and garlic -- very spicy and delicious. The setting and the delicious food combined to create magic. Mike enjoyed his lamb-on-a-spit, and Cheri's boneless, skinless butterflied chicken breast, marinated in brine and then grilled, was fantastic. Each entree came with french fries (!) and also boiled potatoes with parsley -- wonderful flavor. Potatoes 3 ways for dinner! After dinner, our waiter brought us unordered desserts that were also delicious. A soft crust topped with custard and whipped cream and sprinkled heavily with spices -- complex flavors that bloomed in your mouth. We walked through town, window shopping, back to the boat for a relaxing evening NOT spent at anchor in rough seas.

In the morning, we walked to town for a breakfast of fabulous chocolate croissants and to check out the tiny beach at the south end of town. Cheri strolled a little beyond the beach to find small groves of olive trees, penned in by low stone walls. Back to the boat to change for swimming and snorkeling. We spent most of the day at the beach in the hot, hot sun. Strolled back through town, stopping for gelato and a little souvenir shopping. After showers on board, we returned to town for dinner and to buy some local (world renowned) olive oil.

Corfu, Gouvia Harbor (9/4 - 9/6)

We left Paxi early in the morning for the island of Corfu and arrived in Gouvia Harbor at 2:30 PM (a 7 hour run). We took turns at the wheel in hour-long shifts, and the time passed quickly. We explored the very nice marina (real showers! with hot water!), and enjoyed an early dinner. Cheri's chicken shish kebab was great, Mike's filet mignon was not so much. The creamed potato appetizer was like beef stroganoff, but with potatoes and mushrooms. (Both entrees, of course, were accompanied by french fries.) We ended our meal with gelato and returned to the boat.

In the morning, we made eggs and hot chocolate for breakfast and organized our gear in anticipation of the boat checkout (which took only 20 minutes!). Mike called a cab and we headed to Corfu Town's Old Fortress (built in 933) to start our day as land tourists. We hiked around the Old Fort for a couple of hours, then walked down into what proved to be a very delightful town. We strolled the Liston, sat in the Esplanade people-watching, and explored the Venice-like alleyways of the old part of town. The many parks, statues and green areas reminded us of Paris. We ducked into a taverna just as the wind picked up and sat there contemplating the lunch selection while rain hammered down outside our roof. Mike ordered lamb which came with french fries (!) and rice. Cheri's chicken crepe was something like an overstuffed enchilada, minus the cheese (and accompanied by french fries, of course). Our appetizer of saganaki (fried cheese) was delicious. We walked more alleyways, strolled along the waterfront, sat in another park, then went to a shady cafe for ice cream sundaes. More strolling, then grabbed a cab and returned to the boat.

Athens (9/6 - 9/7)

We flew to Athens on Olympic Air and returned to our same hotel, the Grande Bretagne. This time the Sheraton Gold Card paid off with an elegant suite. We dropped our bags and then headed out to wander through the National Gardens on our way to the Panathenaic Stadium (built in 330 BC and the site of the first modern Olympic games in 1896), where we did a lap on the asphalt surface, taking a break to sit in the marble stands. We then walked up the street to explore the Olympieion, the largest temple dedicated to Zeus, with a clear view to the Acropolis. We passed by Hadrian's Arch on our way to the Plaka, where we selected a picturesque taverna for lunch, and greatly enjoyed a shared appetizer of dolmades. Cheri's calamari was excellent, and Mike's lamb souvlaki was tender and flavorful. Our desserts of baklava (Mike) and honey with yogurt (Cheri) were good as well. More wandering through the Plaka before meandering through side streets, winding our way back to the hotel for a siesta.

The next day we were up at 4:30 AM and got home to Simsbury at 10:30 P.M.

Why Did we Choose Greece?

Every year we try to plan a nice vacation to an international destination. As of April, 2000 we were still unsure IF we'd take a trip much less WHERE we'd go. So the end of April, we talked about it again, and decided that we should plan a trip. In order to narrow down the search, we established:

Cheri started doing research. Some of the possibilities included: Spain, several Caribbean Islands and the Grand Canyon.

During a lazy Saturday afternoon Mike was flipping through the TV channels and stopped at the movie Captain Ron" with Kurt Russell and Martin Short. Since we've sailed for over 15 years, Mike proposed "hey, why don't we do a sailing vacation?"

Later that evening, Cheri searched the internet for bareboat charter opportunities. Here's how the scene played out when Mike stopped by and asked if she'd found anything:
Mike: "So have you found anything?"
Cheri: "Yep, I think I've found a few things that might work." (sporting a huge smile)
Mike: "And?????????"
Cheri: "What do you think about chartering a sailboat in Greece?"

Boom!!!!! The pieces fell into place.

Mike started searching the web and comparing different rates for boats, location and length of time. One of the first responses to his e-mail inquiries was from Dimitri Karasava from Aegean Sailing. He offered a special charter deal, to sail from Lefkas Island to Corfu Island within a 2-week time period. Our first desire was to sail the Aegean Sea (east of Greece) rather than the Ionian Sea (west of Greece). But after doing some research and understanding more of the risk of the Meltemi we decided that the Ionian Sea would be a better first charter experience. Besides, if it was good enough for Odysseus, it must be good enough for us.

With the dates of the charter set (it's nice to start with something you have no choice about, it leaves only 100 other things to decide), we then checked out airline rates and schedules. Due to some black-out dates, we had to drop a couple days off the trip, but still could have a nice 10-day vacation.

The last piece was figuring out what to do about the Greek law requiring two people on a bareboat charter to have a certification. We've sailed for years, but aren't part of a yacht club nor have we had any advanced classes that offered certification. So another research project came into being: finding a bareboat charter certification class. Fortunately we found Croton Sailing School in New York. They offer a Bareboat Charter Sailboat Class that would give us the needed certification well before our trip.

With that last piece in place, we locked everything down - the sailboat charter, airlines, hotel and the certification. So...take a look at the cool GIB SEA 334 sailboat on which we sailed the Ionian Sea.

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