Chapter Fifty Four     August  2010

 

Well, Seraphim is rested but her crew arrived from the U.S. exhausted after a thirty-four hour return trip.  The bottom of the boat was as dirty as we have ever seen it, but a little elbow grease would soon put her back in shape. So we hurried with the work and sailed away.

          

Our trip home seemed so long ago even after just a few short weeks of being back. England, Cape Cod, Newport, New York, DC, San Francisco and Lake LBJ, Texas, of course. We did it all. And loved it. But we’re still wildly happy with life aboard Seraphim and it is wonderful to feel “at home” wherever she is.

 

We departed Preveza (on the western Greek mainland in the Ionian) and made our first stop along the coast just twenty miles north to a noisy, rolly bay called Fannari. Ah, but that was soon overlooked since it was here that we took a dinghy ride up the Aherondas River where there is a sanctuary to Hades and Persephone.  According to Greek mythology, this is the gate to the underworld.  The river is very pleasant today, none of its mythical powers being apparent.  Fortunately.

        

Next stop, Two Rock Bay. It was picture perfect.

     

A hop west to the tiny island of Paxoi was dreamy. Don’t let the island’s size fool you, there is plenty to offer. For starters, Paxoi ships their organic olive oil all over the world; it is said that Harrods will only sell olive oil from Paxoi. So we shopped and tested and learned. And bought.  The oil is very delicate, like nothing we’ve ever had. Four liters should last us about a year since we were instructed not to cook with it. It is to be used only as a dressing or a sauce so that the flavor can be experienced. It’s great on warm fresh bread.

 

Gaios, the capital is a sweet town on the east coast swamped with bars, cafes and restaurants. It is packed with yachts, surrounded by pink and cream two-storied buildings against hilly backdrops of lush greenery. A great evening stroll made us want to linger.

      

We woke up to what appeared to be an alien vessel on our starboard bow.

      

North to Corfu, just twenty miles brought us to our final Greek destination before departing for Sicily. Corfu was Odysseus’ last stop on his journey home to Ithaki (according to some). With its landscape of wildflowers and cypress trees rising out of the shimmering olive groves, Corfu is certainly alluring. Because of its high rainfall, it is also a major vegetable garden and produces scores of herbs which gives the mountain air a wonderful aroma.  Occupied for centuries by the English and Italians, it has a different feel from most of Greece.  And it is a very nice feel, too.

           

It gets better. We had our very own tour guide, Thanassis. Maybe you remember him. He escorted us through Trikala, Christmas 2004. We were now reunited for an incredible afternoon of fun, beach bumming and rich conversation. Let us point out that we were chauffeured in a 1969 Volkswagen Bug accompanied by 50’s and 60’s American Rock ‘n Roll!

 

Onward to Sicily. They say “Sailing is 95 % boredom punctuated by 5% sheer terror. Well, we’d agree with that. It was the terror part that hit us heading south from Corfu to Sicily. We almost had to give up the dinghy. Thirty-plus knots of wind on the nose made it a very difficult crossing. But then we arrived in lovely Siracusa. And within a week Sharon was almost back to normal! (She describes the “fear factor” as increasing with menopause.)

 

Siracusa was once the largest Greek city outside Greece proper.  Its history is impressive, and we were told it is a “must see”. And indeed it is. Oritigia, the old town, is filled with charm and style. Roaming around the back alleys, cobblestone streets and walled piazzas was a real treat.

      

                        

Here we met up with another American couple, Jane and Harry. Together we planned the next leg of our journey and our upcoming passage through the Straits of Messina.

 

We traveled north first to the enchanting town of Taormina where we had a glimpse of “organized” Sicily. In Taormina trains and busses actually arrive and depart nearly on time. The town sits high upon the cliffs overlooking the Straits. It is an enchanting city of unsurpassed beauty, mansions, pines, bougainvillea and no cars!

            

Just north of Taormina in the town of Messina we staged for our passage through the Straits. It was days of planning, calculating and fretting. (Sharon did that part.) Our friends turned back twice just weeks before.  The challenges are many. But the eddies, which are small whirlpools that can literally turn your boat around, were the greatest challenge. The winds were howling at 4:00 a.m. but we stayed in bed until 5:00, hoping to catch a last bit of sleep before the alarm went off. The wind dropped as we pulled up the anchor at 5:45 and we were on our way. Binoculars, two sets of terrified eyes (well, one wasn’t nearly as crippled as the other), foul weather gear, life jackets and harnesses and a lot of courage and perseverance set us on course. We were through in 50 minutes with not a hitch. Alleluia!

     

A few hours later, Sharon noticed a large black cloud with a pronounced funnel dangling from the bottom. This is a water spout. They are prevalent in the area and fantastic to look at from VERY far away. For several minutes we worried that it might change direction, but it headed away. Phew.

 

Next stop, Cefalu. Cefalu is a pleasant village filled with fine architecture, myth and history.  Locals drape colorful awnings across their windows to ward off the heat of the day.

   

       

But its greatest reputation is based on the invention of gelato. Here in 1686 Francesco Procopio Dei Coltelli opened his first café selling flavored icy water with anise flowers and cinnamon. While in Cefalu they held the annual Sherbeth Festival celebrating the birth of gelato. There were 36 flavors to choose from. How does walnut and figs sound? Or apple and fennel? Belluno barley? Dried Chestnut! Plums and Cinnamon! Yeah, us too. We mostly stuck to the traditional flavors while we roamed the streets late into the evening for this gastronomic stroll. It was great.

 

Early one morning we encountered the Sardine Man.  He had to be out early so the sardines could be prepared for breakfast.  Breakfast!!  Calling up to the open windows of the houses, he peddled his wheelbarrow load of fish house to house every day. 

 

We parked Seraphim here and headed for Palermo via train. Palermo is easy to describe. Dirty, noisy, frenetic and dazzling. We loved it as soon as we stepped off the train. We found a nice B&B in a 17th century palace to stay in. Then we headed for the streets. We scouted the city for the best churches. They are numerous, of course. And so ornate. Coming from Greece, these are certainly a change of pace. We found the large open market, the cathedral and the Theatre Massimo. It was all worth the trek.

         

            

Last stop: Trapani.  It doesn’t look like much from the water, but the town is really lovely once you get into it.  Large, ornate buildings line the pedestrian only streets, and there is a warm, friendly air to the town.  We stopped one day for lunch and had some of “the best pasta we ever ate.”

            

We loved watching groceries being delivered to the apartments on the top floors of the old buildings.

     

On the “mountain” high above Trapani sits the medieval city of Erice.  One takes a cable car up to Erice, and the views alone are worth the trip.  The town has been there for thousands of years; it was an important, rich Greek colony in the 6th century B.C.  What we see today is mostly Norman, dating from the 12th-14th centuries.  Lovely.

   

                                  

Whoops!  Did we say “last stop?”  Not quite yet.  The Italian island of Pantelleria is mid-way between Trapani and our winter home in Monastir, Tunisia.  So we stopped.  And discovered friends!  Derek and Karen are also heading for Tunisia for the winter but in Hammamet, about 40 miles north of where we’ll be.  What a treat to spend more time with them.  They escorted us to a safe berth in preparation for the 40-knot blow that was forecast and showed us around town.  We admit there isn’t much to see “around town,” but we saw it anyway.  Three days later we saw a favorable weather window, and shoved off for Monastir.  One note of possible interest: I noticed an abandoned oil platform on the chart.  It was directly on our route and we expected to pass by it in the middle of the night.  Not wanting a collision in the dark, I asked the Coast Guard if the platform was lighted at night.  “Where did you see this platform?” they asked.  “I haven’t seen it yet, it is on our route tonight.”  “Oh.  Where is it?”  We went into the back room and hauled out the chart.  “Yes, there is a platform there,” they confirmed.  “But is it lighted?”  “The platforms are always lighted,” they replied.  We passed the platform’s location at 10:30 that night and saw neither hide nor hair of it.  Funny?  Not really.

 

So here we are in Tunisia.  As our French improves, we hope we will develop friendships. No English spoken here!  But the whole point of being here was to bolster our French in preparation for Paris next year! Looks like we picked the golden opportunity. In the meantime there’s lots to see and do! We are looking forward to visitors, exploring and discovering.

 

A bientôt!