Hizem coordinated our repairs in the Tunisian Yard
Hit by lightning on video
Sun returned moments after the storm passed
Videos require buffering time (a minute or two) and then slide the button back to start for smooth viewing.
Our Big SIR (Sailing in Retirement) nearly fell off the rails this year when Con went into a medical and business crisis. Following five months in Canada, Con survived a life-threatening situation, at the same time he had to collapse part of his business in order to survive the economic crash. Returning to Tunisia in the spring, we ventured into the south Sahara Desert for a fabulous experience. See Off the Beaten Track. Setting sail in May, we visited Malta, up the Ionian to Greece, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Italy, and back to Greece settling in Messolonghi for the winter.
January 1, 2009 – With the crash in the economy, Con’s company went into crisis and we made a desperate return to Canada last November. We brought in the new year at the Saddledome, cheering on the Calgary Flames hockey team – they won 6-3 victory over the province’s rival team, the Edmonton Oilers. (Two NHL teams in our province, that’s a lot of sports to support, but Canadians love their hockey.)
Bunking in with Nick, Dan, and Dex, Nick put out a healthy feast of snacks for the four of us (not counting 4-month-old Dex) and we played Trivial Pursuit throughout the evening, ending it with a salmon dinner and chocolate fondue.
January 28 – British friends (John & Sara) have been keeping an eye on Big Sky in Monastir, Tunisia sent an email, “It appears Big Sky’s laces holding the tarp down had partially come undone, so I (John) shimmied up and under the loose section to retie them. I noticed a window ajar, causing concern, so I closed it from the outside.” We actually did that, thinking air flow was a good idea. John said he’ll return with the Harbour Master with our key to inspect it for potential "cat" burglary. There are so many feral cats in Monastir. I'm contemplating what could be worse: a burglar; or 100 feral cats aboard.
February 1 – Following the potential “cat” situation aboard, John risked falling overboard balancing from our neighbours boat to climb aboard Big Sky with our key (given by the Harbour Master) to inspect. All was well aboard, except layers of Sahara Desert had blown into the TWO windows we left open (again, on purpose, but we didn’t know better…). The ensuite bathroom little window was ajar too. John wrote, "The weather out here has been somewhat changeable, and whilst the locals insist it's unusual, the effect is that we've been experiencing days of heavy rain accompanied by strong gale storm force winds, and yes, I had to go aboard "Big Sky" this morning and tie down her covers. Not a problem, as you can imagine, the string to the toe rail had chafed through and like all enthusiastic girls; she'd proceeded to unlace herself!"
February 8 – Day by day we’re more anxious to get back to the Mediterranean. At this point, “time” is out of our control. Con works day and night on his business, sleeping little. I spend most of my time with our kids and grand kids, and enjoying or enduring winter in Canada. Soon, we fly to Victoria to be with my parents, always a fun time.
February 18 -- We've returned from Vancouver Island, where we had an always awesome time visiting mom and dad.
CON'S MEDICAL EMERGENCY
March 10 – For a year, Con has been trying to solve an impossible financial crisis with his company as the economy crashes around us. Simultaneously, his body began to fail. We noticed last November he had difficulty walking. At that time, he focused on his business and I studied his body's deterioration. He never complained, but said he had a tingling sensation around his middle, poor circulation, cold feet, and I noticed his skin is taking on a gray colour. When his right leg stopped working, his doctor sat up to take notice. We paid $750 for a private and immediate MRI as the wait could be a year. It shed no light on the mystery. His doctor of 39 years knew something was very wrong when he noticed Con's leg muscles began wasting. He booked him in for an "urgent" MRI to view the top part of Con’s spine. The mystery was now known. Con had a tumour in his spine, putting severe pressure on blood arteries and dangerously forcing his spine out of whack. The doctor arranged an immediate visit (same day) to a surgeon, who upon viewing the MRI moved all his surgeries to have Con on the table that day if possible. He had the surgery the very next day.
While lying on the gurney waiting to go into the operating room, the anesthesiologist introduced himself to us. “You know, there is no guarantee for this sort of surgery. One wrong move and you can become a paraplegic. It is a very tricky operation. Just want you to know.”
I was shocked that such a person would deliver such negative medical information. He was not the surgeon! I talked over him into Con's ear telling him over and over, "You will be fine. He’s the best surgeon and I just know you’ll come out 100 percent."
I waited in our rental car in the hospital parking lot, cell phone in hand. The nurses promised to call as soon as he was out. Five hours later, I received a call from Dr. DuPlesse, the surgeon, “It’s out. We think it’s benign, and he did great. No more worrying.”
A moment later my cell phone rang again, “Hello, is this Barbara, I’m Con’s Recovery Nurse, and he told me to tell you he loves you. He’s wiggling his toes, and everything went perfectly.”
There’s no putting in words how I felt at that moment, stress and worry now lifted. All I could say to the surgeon and nurse was, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Con was a ticking time bomb, with the tumor literally trying to squish the life out of him. Had he left it much longer, it would have burst a blood vessel in his spine leaving him permanently paralyzed and possibly a stroke. His finger strength is returning and his leg atrophy is depleting.
How about this for a coincidence. The day of Con’s surgery, was the day he closed down the part of his business that had been losing money like a leaky faucet. Now, he can concentrate on his health, and eventually rebuilding the rest of his company.
April 10 -- Our family joined us for Chinese food hours before we departed for the Netherlands, where we’ll put Con in front of his mom and she will know he’s well.
April 15 -- Geert invited us for a day on the Vecht River. It runs passed his and Loes’ house, and their open river boat is docked right in front. We motored to Loenen where we collected Nomie and Albertine on the bank of the Vecht and the five of us continued to Utrecht for lunch.
April 16 – Con’s biking! We set off for a long bike ride to the pretty town of Bussum, locked the bikes and walked everywhere, stopping for coffee in an outdoor café. The Netherlands is now covered in white, pink and fuchsia blossoms. (It is so similar to the world famous Butchard Gardens on Vancouver Island. )
April 20 – Another day on the water today with Loes and Geert touring the water systems around Hillversum and the Vecht by boat in remarkable weather. Tomorrow, our last day with family is also Nomie's 93rd birthday and will celebrate with a nice dinner together. Via train to Paris, we’ll return to Monastir and back to Big Sky making it 5 ½ months away.
BACK ON THE BOAT
April 23 -- We're home! Five and a half months later we’re viewing Big Sky floating secure at the quay in the marina in front of all the busy restaurants. Con lowered the ladder, and “no thanks” to my offer to carry the two large suitcases, he walked aboard. Two emotions spilled from his face: Pride, to be able to carry those bags proving his strength in his fingers was returning, and disgust, taking a whiff. Feral Cats! Where the cats hung out in the restaurant bushes -- and they’re vicious fighting at your feet for food – they decided Big Sky would be a much better haven for the winter. A German boat neighbour said, “Yes, we saw every night how the cats boarded and slipped under the tarp for the night.” They used our coiled ropes as their litter box! As we organize the boat, the cats board, growling at us as they peer in through our pilot-house windows saying, “What are you doing in OUR house.” We chase them off the moment they appear. Con went to the bakery for fresh bread and CND 19 cent croissants. Oranges are 78 cents a kilo. Tomorrow we’ll pick up artichokes, they’re now in season. One of the great joys returning to Big Sky beyond having my now healthy husband back, was seeing my closet. We packed in November and lived 5 ½ months out of those cases. Apparently, we’re told by the German, “Four days ago, the marina experienced 50 knot winds and all the boats were heeling wildly, one got away and was rescued. Big Sky fared well.” In Tunisia, the spoken language is Arabic and French (a hangover from their colonial days).
April 25 -- Two years ago this day, Con and I began our adventures on Big Sky.
We met a delightful Canadian couple and invited them to our boat to join us at 7 pm. Nearly giving up on them, they finally arrived exactly at 8 pm. And then, today, we had a 10 am appointment with Hazim in the Monastir boat yard, and he wasn’t there. They called him to come and he arrived 15 minutes later, pointing at the clock. It was 9:15 am! We hadn’t realized that in Tunisia they don't set their clocks back. For three days, we'd been living in the wrong time zone. The quote we received from Hazim to have Big Sky hauled out, cleaned, waxed, polished, and some minor repairs and returned to the water was excellent.
The warming sun is a pleasant partner for Con’s recuperation. I must remember he had major surgery just weeks ago and must take time to be lazy.
April 26 -- We're finally claiming back our boat from the feral cats that have been growling at us since our return. A sure sign they've given up jumping aboard was when we woke this morning to a dozen little birds singing away on our boat. Con and I were sitting in the cockpit eating fresh croissants and sipping latte's this morning when a group of Tunisian women about 18 touring Monastir stopped to ask permission to take a photo. “Sure,” I said assuming they’d use Big Sky in the background. Two at a time, they walked the skinny plank across the marina water to pose aboard, inviting me to join in. The only problem was I was in my PJ's.
April 29 – Our bow thruster now refused to turn on. It had been weakening to the point where we stopped using it. With Big Sky on the hard, we saw the mess of tangled jellyfish and we don’t know what that had taken up residence in the hollow. Was that the problem? The hull was full of crustaceans and is now cleaned.
May 4 – The yard work is now completed, and we paid our bill in 20 dinar bills (that’s the largest you can get out of the ATMs) $1830. This included the haul out and in, repairs to the hull, straightening the stainless steel, cleaning and polishing the stainless steel, cleaning, waxing and polishing the hull and topside. Also a cappuccino machine repair man was called to investigate our bow thruster, cutter sail, and fridge. We had major doubts about a Cappuccino Repair Man analysing our boat problems, however, he was right on (we learned months later and many euros later in Malta). The repair man said, “Bow Thruster has broken Electronic Control Board; sail motor broken; and dirt in the outlet coil.” We thanked him, and didn’t even know if he billed the yard. He said they didn’t have the bow thruster part, and ordering would take a while, and the sail motor would have to come apart in a shop – we weren’t interested.
For cost comparisons: Polishing and greasing the propeller, replacing zincs in Tunisia – CND $1600. The quote from the Yard in Spain for just polishing – CND $5400! Big Sky has had the attention of Hizem's three staff members from sun up to sun down for five days -- five days so far. The method used to prop the boats is age-old, using oil drums and wooden board shimmed in for balance.
“That boat?” Hizem looked on the roof when we asked why and how it got there. “I’m waiting for the bill to be paid, it’s been there for 10 years now, but once he pays, I’ll put it back in the water.”
May 14 -- Hailey Chyler, our first grandbaby girl was born today to Courtney and Mike. It was a long and hard delivery lasting 44 hours! Mom and baby look fantastic! Hailey was 6 lbs 7 oz (the exact weight that both Courtney and Lindsey were), and 19 inches long. Everybody is doing really well. We were able to see Hailey, mom, dad, and Lindsey moments after her birth thanks to Skype!
May 16 -- The wind has been howling through the marina on and off for the last few days and nights, meanwhile, we’re checking all our weather resources for the best passage to Malta. “It’ll be a game of craps, Barb.”
Our weather options for our 24-hour crossing: Guaranteed very strong winds, high seas, and possibly sail reefed, or no wind and we motor. We’ll time our departure to ensure daylight arrival.
For one coin, we took a bus to the tourist town of Sousse to check out the market and medina. Bartering is exhausting and they call it a sport. Shopping for a carry-on bag on wheels, I found a beautiful leather one. The price was atrocious, but that’s the start price. I usually pay that price if I like whatever, because I can’t do the barter thing. Con did it for me. Two young men in their 20s came into the store to watch. Finally, the price was settled, Con and the vendor shook hands. Con said, “I have to go to the instant teller and will be right back.”
The vendor said, “My brother will go with you.”
Con said, “No, Barb I’ll be right back.”
Once Con left, the three men hurled insults to me about Con. “He has no respect, we don’t like him.” Pausing then adding, “we like you.” They agreed on the price!
One of the guys walked forward to stand close to me, “Why are American’s afraid of us?”
I was not impressed and looked at them with disappointment, but not fear. I’m pretty sure they were trying to intimidate me. Con returned, paid and we left. We puzzled over that one for a few days. Vendors believe we should just buy stuff at the price THEY want, not what it may be worth or whether we even want it. If you look or touch an item, they're on you. "No thanks" and "not interested," turns into them offering you TWO of what you don't want.
For dinner, we fried what we thought was a light-coloured tuna from the fish market. It was delicious. Turns out, it was shark! The Tunisians have a different approach to food handling. Three weeks ago, I suffered badly with E Coli from raw chicken I ate at a restaurant near the yard. Just recovering, something else attacked my insides. There doesn’t seem to be separation in handing raw chicken and then preparing a salad. Thankfully, I have Cipro medication and at the suggestion of our Canadian friend, a pharmacist living aboard in Monastir with her husband, she said, “Take it!”
Today in the market, a woman bought goat heads and hooves for a stew. I asked how you prepare it and finding the words slowly, using hand gestures, she shared, “Singe the hairs off, skin the hooves, chop with sharp cleaver, pull out the brains (not sure what they do with them), boil for 15 minutes, add chilies, mixed onions and garlic, lots of wild mint, and then cook another 45 minutes, and serve with more mint.”
I’ve been ordering "bread merci" from restaurants, while Con orders undefined foods. My stomach is still a bit weak. To ward off more illness, I’ve washed and peeled all the fruits and vegetables before eating.
May 19 -- We're in Malta for the next 10 days, in the capital city of Valletta. It's a relaxed city with lots of steep narrow streets. It’s surrounded on three sides by the water and a massive fortification that dates back to 1565 and the Knights of the Order of St. John. After 700 knights and 8000 locals survived an invasion by 30,000 Turks, holding them off, the King of Spain and Pope Pius V built this city.
Valletta is perched high atop a hill between the two deep water ports of Marsamxett (where we are) and Grand Harbour.
May 20 -- We think Malta is a pretty place, but so far all we've seen these few days have been behind and under cabinets and cupboards. We've changed a few of the hoses on Big Sky, but what a work out! Luckily, I'm working through my claustrophobia, contorted my body in ways I never thought possible to get to clamps and fitting inside small cabinets. What skills I've acquired. I can juggle a mirror, work a socket tool, and use the other three fingers to hold back half a dozen hoses and wires. That's with one hand, the other was holding the clamp. Fortunately, the flashlight was on my forehead, as the hand-held sadly slipped out of Con's hand and is still shining brightly in our bilge. It's not alone, as it was joined by a socket and a couple of hose clamps. (Con was fired.)
We biked from the marina to the Customs and Immigration our second day, then back to the boat to work on the plumbing! Customs wouldn’t stamp Con’s passport, because he’d be leaving my water, but because I will fly to Canada, mine was stamped, and Big Sky was entered into their enormous book under the Queen Victoria.
May 24 -- We took the local bus into Valletta Saturday and again on Sunday. Saturday, the streets were packed with tourists and Sunday (church day), the streets were empty!
Malta, founded on religious roots and built by the Knights of St. John's, a Christian order that provided first aid of sorts to pilgrims heading to the Holy Land. They grew into a second priority and reputation as a strong Christian Military Order to protect Malta, Rome and Jerusalem from the powerful Ottoman. The Knights were given Malta as a reward, to enjoy and built castles, palaces, churches, gardens and the walled fortification. Over time, the Order became very popular and rich and their priorities reversed (military first, then hospitalliers). The Pope brought them down.
I lugged a big bag of clothes for the Malta YMCA down the long street until we found the "Y" which was closed. We left the bag at the cyber café when the proprietor said they'd “give it to them tomorrow when they open again”.
Jan and Anne Marie (Con's brother and his wife) will arrive in another hour to sail with Con for a week as they make their way north to Corfu. I'll fly home to Calgary on Tuesday to spend a month with Courtney, Mike and our now 10-day old newborn baby girl, Hailey, and of course, visit Lindsey and Les, and fly to Vancouver Island to see my folks.
Nick and 7-month-old Dex will join Con in Corfu and remain until I come back to Big Sky. We're currently researching Lee Cloths to make a crib/bed or sorts for Dex in the bunk room.
May 29 - 31 SAIL TO MALTA; FLY TO CANADA; SAIL TO ITALY
We toured around Malta for a few days before Jan & Anne Marie arrived to sail to Syracuse with Con. They all said, “Good-bye” to me at the marina office where the taxi collected me for the airport.
From Con: After nine days in Malta, it was time to move on. Barb had left the previous day for Canada to visit our first granddaughter Hailey, just 10-days old. Jan and Anne Marie will sail with me to Corfu. We planned to leave at the crack of dawn to make Syracuse, Sicily, about 90 nautical miles, but at 5:30 pm, there wasn't a breath of wind. We slept more and reassessed the situation a few hours later. By 9 am, we changed our destination to Marzamemi, 60 nautical miles away. Jan steered us out of the Valetta harbour while Anne Marie and I secured the fenders and lines. Raising the sails, to our surprise we found a beautiful 15 - 20 knot NW wind. Big Sky was clipping at 8 knots. Nine hours later, we sailed into the Marzamemi marina. In the morning, we left for Syracuse, greeted by a pod of dolphins, beautiful blue skies, but little wind. At 11 am, we motored out directing Big Sky to Crotone, Italy, just under 160 nautical miles. The "Stad Amsterdam" under full sail crossed our bow. It was an impressive sight and exciting for us, because just seven years ago, Jan and Anne Marie, Barb and I, and most of our family enjoyed a half day sail on that very same ship. It's a true replica of the original, except for its engine. Shortly after, the wind picked up and while on a close haul, I went down to check on things only to discover that the hot water hose Barb and I had repaired in Malta had failed and 500 litres of water had been pumped onto the stern bathroom and bedroom floor. Awkward, because we still had 20 hours to go before reaching Crotone. The wind continued to pick up to 25 knots; time to reef the sails. The genoa refused to move -- a blown fuse. Access to the fuse was behind the hot engine, so my only option was to go forward with the hand crank and crank in the huge sail. The sea state was pretty rough with two meter waves crashing over the deck. Tied to the lifeline, I went forward and 30 minutes later, the sail was furled. Once the sea died down, I went into the awkward cupboard and made a make-shift fix for the hot-water hose. We motored into the Crotone marina believing all our excitement was behind us. It was not. After docking, we discovered that one of the mooring lines had fouled the prop. I donned bathing suit and snorkel and 30 minutes later, freed the line.
May 30 (In Calgary Canada) -- Hailey, our beautiful two-week old granddaughter is a joy to be around. So tiny. She reminds me of my own children’s birth and the amount of energy required in the beginning, and all the unknowns, equally exhausting. Courtney is relieved to have me there to entertain Hailey, cook, and care for the house.
June 5 - Yesterday Con says they had a fantastic sail from Santa Maria de Leuca to Otranto, in calm waters with decent winds from behind. With the Genoa up they moved along at three to six knots. Con headed toward the coast to anchor so they could have a swim as the wind had fallen off so much, but by the time they got close, the wind came up to 15 knots, so they moved on to their next destination. Anne Marie spotted a turtle swimming passed them.
June 6 -- Con, Jan and Anne Marie docked in Greece today, in what Con described as a "perfect sail." They arrived in Kassiopi, a pretty small town filled with flowers and full of boats. Their first try docking, they ran aground. Thankfully, they found a second spot and literally docked right in front of where people were having a drink. Once settled, they claimed the table.
They left Otranto at 7 am in 25 knot south east winds and set up for an 11-hour reefed sail. Dolphins visited.
In Calgary, Courtney, Mike, Hailey and I spent the day with Lindsey, visiting from Red Deer. Lindsey shared her BIG news, she and Les are engaged to marry! We all had such a fun day planning the wedding and playing with Hailey.
June 15 -- Nick and Dex, our daughter and grandson from Calgary, arrive aboard today, flying in from the Netherlands where for the past few weeks, along with Brit and Nolan have been visiting their Dutch family. Meanwhile, I’m soaking up my last moments with one-month-old Hailey. Brit, not a sailor, will fly home to Saskatchewan and Nick and Dex will finish their European holiday with Con on Big Sky and me, when I return on the 23rd, June.
The make-shift crib is now ready for Dex, a lee cloth in the bunk room. Con outfitted Big Sky with a make-shift crib for nine-month-old Dex. A lee cloth is meant to hold a person firm when the boat is rocking wildly. Beyond the lee cloth, Con replaced all the hot water hose, had the rigging checked, fixed the bow thruster, had an LED light fixed up the mast, and numerous other tasks. Stay tuned for stories about how Nick and Con dock Big Sky with a baby. I'm leaving Calgary this morning for Victoria, BC to visit my folks. Just a few precious days remain in Canada before I head back to Big Sky next Monday.
June 17 -- After Nick and Dex settled into Big Sky, Con and Nick set sail from the Corfu marina to drop anchor for a few days and enjoy the warm weather and swim in the 25-26 degree sea waters.
June 18 -- Con managed to pick up a weak Wi-Fi signal in the Gouvia Marina and sent pictures and stories to me in Victoria, BC.
From Con’s email: Nick, Dex and Con organized themselves and set sail around 11 am heading to a calm cove for anchorage. Nick held Dex, Con let go of the bow lines, walked to the stern line, let it go, settled into the cockpit and backed Big Sky out. He used the bow thruster three times perfectly, then it quit again (which makes a year now without it). They headed to the Bay by Igoumenista on the mainland, about 22 nautical miles away which turned out to be disappointing, so them carried on to the pretty town of Platarias pulling in beside a 55' Dutch boat. Con set the lines and bow ladder. At the last moment, Nick put Dex in the cockpit to play.
The cockpit floor is set up with a piece of old kitchen floor protector, then blankets and toys. Nick dropped the stern anchor with precision, and Con tossed the lines to the Dutch man on shore. Too hot for Dex to sleep on Big Sky, they walked to a shady cafe for a beer and lemonade and Dex’s sleep. They met up with the Dutch couple who assumed Dex was Con’s son and that daughter and father were actually husband and wife. They chuckled about that.
June 24 -- After 20 hours of air travel, the Greek sun felt great and as I neared Big Sky (docked in the Corfu marina) I felt I was “home.” Con and I had been apart for one month, our longest separation and it was fabulous having his arms wrap around me. As a bonus, Nick and Dex are still here and have a few more days left from their two-week Greek holiday.
Sauntering along the marina promenade, something bit me, and then another! Two enormous wasps took turns taking chunks out of my back.
That night, lightning and thunder rumbled filling the quiet sky and we watched it pass overhead heading off in the distance. By morning, the four of us climbed aboard a bus taking us to town for more Greek culture. Dex is getting lots and lots of attention, especially from a particular older women with just half a mouth full of teeth. She couldn't stop kissing him. Last week, Con and Nick were out for dinner, and an older woman from the kitchen came out, picked Dex off Nick’s lap and disappeared back into the kitchen.
There are so many different and fun coffee combinations here. The most popular is Nescafe cold, but there you can experiment with combination. Today, Nick and I are had the ice-cream cappuccinos in the marina café.
June 25 -- The four of sailed to the small Greek town of Kassiopi where in the first century AD the Emperor Nero is said to have visited a Temple of Jupiter, situated on the western side of the harbour where the church now stands. Ruins of a 13th century castle is just a short walk further west. We tied up on the quay for a peaceful night in the quiet fishing village. We returned to Gouvia the next morning in rain, lightning, and thunder. Nick and Dex's holiday ends at 8 am in the morning. Gouvia is the closest location to the airport.
June 29 -- Corfu is a beautiful green and lush island, with attractive secluded coves for anchorage. The island is east of Italy, just a stone's throw to the north is Albania, ruled by the Roman Empire in 229 BC - 337 AD, followed by the Byzantine, Goths, Normans, Angevin, Venetian's from 1386-1797, and then the French who brought back their Greek language. After a brief British rule, the Greeks had their country back. Now they are part of the EU (European Union).
The NATO leaders were in our neighbourhood yesterday, along with the Russian, Greek and Italian presidents to discuss the stabilization of Europe and North American relations. This was to make sure everybody was friendly when they meet next month to discuss the containment of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It caused quite a police and security helicopter presence in and around our marina. By late Sunday afternoon, the politicians had left along with the helicopters. Sitting in Big Sky's cockpit with our binoculars, we could clearly see the balconies of the hotel where the meetings took place.
We're on the home-stretch of our maintenance, with new bathroom hose being installed, and Monday, and new boat batteries. We put that monster of a purchase off as long as possible, sucking every last drop out of our 10-year old batteries.
July 1 -- Happy 142 years Canada! Con and I celebrated with a Greek dinner on a quiet restaurant patio. We're having a series of lazy days, reading books under the shade of our cockpit tarp waiting for the right winds to take us north to Albania, Montenegro and eventually to Croatia, and later Slovenia for the summer.
We nick-named the yellow lab "Marley" after the book and movie "Marley and Me". They go out each day and Marley swims every afternoon with the kids. He’s a happy dog.
July 5 -- In a few days, we'll sail to Albania and fingers crossed, there will be internet. During WWII, it was extensively mined along the shoreline. The water is safe on the surface, but the mines have not been retrieved from the bottom. Anchoring is potentially dangerous. There are no Navtex weather forecasts in Albania, but luckily there are plenty of other resources.
We’ve been advised: Do not get into an argument because many people carry firearms, but they’re very friendly people; do not to drink fresh milk or the Albanian water because AIDS and hepatitis is ramped.
Albania has seen its share of invaders, the Greek, Romans, barbarian tribes, Serbs, Slavs, Venetians, and Ottoman Turks but they've managed to hold onto their language and culture. They are the oldest race in south-east Europe. Once Christians, they converted to Islam during the Ottoman invasion. Albania was occupied by the Italians, then the Germans during WWII, followed by the Communists, who ruled with an iron fist until 1992 when Democracy was voted in for one term. Communism returned the next election then Albania returned to Democracy and is today. While the shift from Communism to Democracy was taking place, the country saw a dramatic increase in criminal activity. It wasn't too long ago that yachts in Albanian waters were met with hostility. It should be an interesting visit. We've hired a clearing agent who will greet us at our first port of entry and handle all the official paperwork for Big Sky as well as for us.
July 6 – When we started sailing in 2007, our insurance company didn’t cover Albania, “too much crime” but now the ban has been lifted and we can’t wait to visit. It’s a country locked in communism until 1992. Just 15 NM from Corfu, and weather depending, we’ll sail there tomorrow.
July 7 – Our arrival in Albania couldn’t have been more pleasurable, motoring into the Saranda harbour, and having our lies caught by our agent. Mind you, we had to motor through the public swimming area but the kids made room. Later, eager-to-play boys swarmed the boat by water, desperate to climb aboard for to use Big Sky as a diving board. We smiled, pretending we didn’t understand them, and then our agent, still aboard turned to them saying something and they swam away.
July 8 -- We remember Larry Radu today with great memories of a fun family life together.
Last night, we tried to upload the website, but the Albanian security zapped the entire site. If you're reading this, it's because we found another internet site with a different security. Walking through Saranda, Communist symbols and concrete constructions can be seen everywhere, calling themselves “The Soviet Party” which is made up of the same people that were once in the Communist party.
At the market, Con tried to buy oranges from one of the female vendors, and she shooed him away. He came back with me hoping to buy her plums, because they were the best looking ones, and even with me, she shooed him away again. We circled the market of about 50 vendors, where she kept a close eye on him. Finally, he went back to her and pointed to the plumbs pleadingly. She reluctantly let him purchase.
We purchased a watermelon for less than $2 Canadian, and bags of fruit and vegetables for great prices. Like in Tunisia, they use the weight scale for price.
We walked back to the boat through the busy streets and put on Albanian radio. "All I Want for Christmas" was playing. Stocked for our next few days at anchor, we departed Saranda for a Palermo Bay about three hours north. It was once a military site and motoring near the shore, we saw about a half dozen machine guns mounted pointing to the sky (and later learned that there was a camouflaged cave where the Albanians keep their submarines).
We wanted to take photos, but were intimidated by the two agitated soldiers who ran to the beach shouting, “Go! Go! Go!” We motored across the bay and anchored near what we thought was a small abandoned village with concrete houses. There were no windows or doors, surrounded by cactus and desert-like shrubs. We realized about an hour later, that dozens of people live in them. Nearing sundown, four fishing boats arrived. What appeared to be abandoned turned out to be a busy hamlet of Albanians.
July 11 -- Hit by Lightning Today! After three fabulous days swimming at anchor in the 5-meter deep Palermo Bay with beautiful clear blue waters (free of unexploded bombs from what we saw). We could practically count the grains of sand at the bottom of the bay. When we weren’t swimming, we lazed in the shade of the cockpit and watched locals collecting lavender high up in the hillside behind us.
Our paradise was rudely interrupted. We woke to calm sunny weather and took our time getting ready to leave the anchorage. Con was in the water, swimming to shore to unleash our chain from a rock that kept us from swinging in the bay. I stretched, looked up at the hillside and moving like a race car, dark clouds bubbled up into the sky over the ridge and was moving toward the bay. Without internet, to check the weather, it was a complete surprise. I shouted to Con to get his attention and pointed. He did a sprint-front crawl to shore, freed the chain, and swam as fast as he could back to the platform. Meanwhile, I had the engine going and was taking up the anchor. Con climbed aboard and before he could close the back gate, I was flooring it out of the bay and out to sea. Looking over my shoulder as we passed through the opening, an enormous lightning bolt cracked directly into the bay -- in the spot we just vacated!
“Straight ahead,” Con instructed. We wanted to outrun the storm, swing well around it and back into Vlore, another large Albanian harbour, seven hours north. But the storm moved at incredible speed following us and before we could blink, the storm surrounded us with lightning crackling and bolts shooting.
With the storm’s intended course, Con decided that we'd be best to motor north and go right through the front of it and lessen our time in it. While Con was standing under the bimini in the cockpit, filming the lightening show, it flashed directly overhead followed by a loud "boom!" He came inside! The rain quickly turned into hail and a very angry sea. Big Sky was heeling alarmingly and when I situated ourselves by the GPS, it appeared we were going backward.
What we later realized was that the lightening had zapped our auto pilot and put us into the Man Overboard circles. The wind speed indicated clocked a steady 52 NM (90 KPM) and it seemed tried to LIFT Big Sky's 27 tons out of the sea. We stood in the pilot house hugging, wondering if we’d entered the Bermuda Triangle, but in the next moment, it became still – calm – but then it returned again. We had just been in the eye of the storm for a pleasant minute when the pressure returned along with the other side of the storm, bringing more wind and hail, and then it just passed as if it never existed. The sky cleared and the sun returned.
Surveying our instruments, we know now lightning struck our electronics aboard, specifically our GPS causing it to crash the outside auto pilot. For the next seven hours, Con steered Big Sky to our next port, telling me, “Rest.” What we didn’t know then was that our INSIDE auto pilot hadn’t been zapped.
View the video of the very strike that zapped our instruments.
July 15 – Further damage inspection was not as bad as we imagined. The outside auto pilot had been zapped, but the inside instrument actually worked, so Con didn’t have to be standing seven hours at the helm.
With Big Sky safe in the Orikum Marina, near Vlore, Albania, (the one and only marina in Albania) we rented a car for 40 Euro a day leaving the coast to explore inland. We plotted a two-day trip: a more northern route from the west coast to the eastern border with Macedonia, and a southern route back to the coast. Both routes took us through the rolling hills to the Balkan Mountains. The roads wound their way up and down and up and down the mountain ranges. Many cars seem to be in substandard condition. We had an "okay" rental. The gas gage didn't work, which is crucial when traveling in the mountains. There are some incredibly remote areas without services, but we managed just fine. Our horn didn't work, another crucial feature, when navigating the one-lane pot-holed roads that often seemed to hang precariously to the mountain sides. Many times, we held our breath taking a curve, or crossing a rickety bridge held up by a sandy mountainside, or piled up rocks.
We averaged about 30 KPH through most of our travels. Maps are a scarcity, as are road signs, so at an intersection or going through the tiny villages and towns, we'd use the sun as our guide. If it was behind us in the afternoon, we knew we were still going east. At one point, we stopped for diesel and I asked the attendant in sign language where the garbage can was holding a handful from the car. He gestured "over there" and I walked, then he said "further" with his hands, I looked again at him for directions, and he said "okay, there!" "There" was the cliff. The idea is you just toss your garbage over. I brought it back to the car.
We arrived at the beautiful lake in the afternoon on the eastern Albanian border, and stayed in a hotel for 18 Euro a night, including a fantastic breakfast, expresso and Turkish coffees.
Above was our hotel where there were only three rooms. Ours overlooked the beautiful lake; the other two were vacant. Apparently there's another hotel in the village, but we never found it.
We fell in love with this village and the people who live there. Everyone greeted us with a big smile, let Con to take their photograph, and even allowed me into the over-crowded "men's-only" restaurant and bar. It's on the main floor of the hotel above. There were a few odd stares and some glares, but mostly smiles. A teenage boy asked us where we were from using his high-school English.
“Canada.” We asked where the women were, pointing to the restaurant. He shrugged, “They're not allowed," looking at me for reaction added, “you are a guest, you can go in.”
People came out of their homes to greet us, or stopped tending their goats or garden to wave or blow a kiss and offer, “Welcome,” or pose for a photo. Throughout the country, through towns and remote countryside, small pill-box bunkers littered the ground, put there during the cold war. Conservatively, there could be a fifty thousand of 'em! We can’t imagine how much concrete was transported around the country making them.
The countryside was fertile and the Albanians efficiently take advantage of the land growing crops. Even at the tops of the mountains, there are orchards, crops, flocks of sheep, goats... We didn't see the poverty or beggars that we'd imagined. Our travel books declared Albania as the “poorest country in Europe”. It might be so, but the people didn't appear to want for anything, at least in the country. There's new construction, road building, maintained houses, well taken care of yards, and usually with a beautiful garden of fruits and vegetables. Everyone greeted us warmly. When communism fell in 1992, it seems that most of the stark factories closed and are now falling into disrepair. The people have found their way through this era with some prosperity and pride. The standards of living can't be compared with Western Europe, because cost of living and life style is so different.
July 18-19 -- Checking two weather resources, we found the weather window that would comfortably take us from Albania to Croatia, a 29-hour sail. The weather files were wrong! We had a great sail from 6 am until about 11 pm when a strong 25-32 KN winds blew on our bow and remained until we docked in Dubrovnik.
We captured a photo of a weather front when the seas were calm and believe it’s the forming of a Bora Wind about to blow and maybe brought in the lightning and 52 knot winds we experienced when leaving our anchorage.
The seas were still calm at this point, but a few hours later they became incredibly violent, chopping in every direction, with deep waves coming at us at with no particular pattern tossing Big Sky from side to side and from stern to bow. In our two years sailing, this was the most uncomfortable voyage yet. What a wonderful sight to see land and to be secured in the Dubrovnik Marina. Having realized the autopilot was still working from the inside, we were able to stay secure in the pilot house during the passage. The only other traffic was two fishing boats near Dubrovnik and two passing ferries. The Adriatic has a reputation of kicking up nasty storms without warning.
July 20 -- Having missed a night's sleep sailing from Albania to Croatia, we slept nearly 12 hours straight in the Dubrovnik Marina. Once we washed the salt-loaded topsides, we ventured into the beautiful town. We were here five years ago on our honeymoon, having chartered a sailboat then. We’ve seen many different cities, towns, villages, but arriving here we can really appreciate its beauty. This city experienced damage as most cities during the 90s Yugoslav Wars. The city walls were a saving grace, preserving Dubrovnik with its fortifications. After the collapse of Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik went through perhaps the most difficult days in its existence. Serbian aggression cut it off putting its survival into jeopardy. UNESCO has provided new red tiled roofs and you can only imagine how many were replaced during rebuilding.
July 23 – Viewing the map, you can see the uniqueness of Croatia's border located on the Balkan Peninsula. We’re anchored off the island of Mijet, north of Dubrovnik. The map shows the redefinition of the borders.
Background: The Yugoslav Wars were a series of violent conflicts during the 1990 to 2001, but tensions had been building during the 80s when Communism ended in 1991. When the Slovenians and Croatians walked out of the meetings, it kicked off the conflict.
The wars that followed:
* War in Slovenia 1991;
* Croatian War of Independence from 1991 - 1995,
* Bosnian War in 1992-1995.
* NATO bombed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995.
* In Albania, the Kosovo War was from 1998 - 1999.
* NATO bombed again in 1999
* Southern Serbia conflict 2000 - 2001
* Macedonia conflict - 2001
In 2003, the name "Yugoslavia" was abolished; in 2006, Montenegro and Serbia declared independence; and in 2008, Kosovo declared their independence.
Yugoslavia, during the 20th century was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, also of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Montenegro annexed just after WWI. Yugoslavia was renamed again, following WWII, to the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia when a communist government was established, dividing the country into provinces: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia, etc. The wars were about ethnic clashing between the Serbs on one side and the Croats, Bosniaks, and Albanian's on the other side. But it was also between Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia, also about the Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia. It was the first time the world heard the term: Ethnic Cleansing. It was genocide!
We anchored in a deep bay in front of the small town of Slano, flattened in the 1991 conflict with the Serbs. The Serbs came over the mountains pictured behind this house, and lobbed missiles hoping to secure this as a port location. Across from us one of only three remaining houses is pitted with bullet holes. Since 1991, the Croats rebuilt.
Con and I visited Croatia in 2004; there weren't a lot of tourists then and still despite the world financial crash that’s been going on since last year.
July 26 – Yesterday afternoon, in no rush getting to Trpanj, we stopped in a secluded bay for lunch and a swim (water temperature 29 degrees) we motored into the holiday resort area. Surveying potential docking style, we dropped our stern anchor and proceeded to motor to the quay. People ashore called, “No anchor! Pick up lines.” Too late, our stern anchor snagged heavy metal cable from the 4.5 meter bottom. Con had a heck of a time releasing it from the anchor. All the while, I was doing maneuvers at the helm to keep Big Sky in the centre of the harbour in the cross wind. Our antics entertained the tourists for at least an hour. Just up the road from the marina are the ruins of a medieval fortress.
Today, we sailed on to Mali Ston, a medieval town, dodging the mine-field of oyster bed traps, pictured. We had to laugh at that as we got closer because during our approach we had no idea what we would be up against. The wind blew through the small peninsula so strong we set the GPS alarm to ensure we didn’t drag.
July 27 – Rowing ashore in our dinghy gave us a spectacular view from the top of the fortress high up on the hill. It circles around the hillside to the next town of Ston which is on the other side of the peninsula. (By boat from Mali Ston in this photo it's 100 KN to Dubrovnik. From Ston just behind this town it's 20 miles by car.) During our hike up the hill, we passed massive spiders, beetles, and an abandoned house.
July 29 -- Yesterday, we sailed passed Bosnia Herzegovina's 26 kilometer coastline, not stopping. The 3-4 kilometers of developed coast was wall-to-wall sun bathers. When they spotted our Canadian flag, the waved and cheered, calling "Canada! Canada!" We took photos of the people taking photos of us. It was an odd sensation because I thought we were part of NATO’s bombing in 1995 and again in 1999.
The Croatian coast guard immediately chased us down, because in fact, we’d sailed out of Croatia and into a different country. They asked for all our documents, passports, ship’s papers, and insurance. We complied. They took them away returning shortly after with them all and waved us on.
Dropping anchor in a small resort town, we stocked the cupboards and moved on to a private anchorage, and swung on the hook for two days and then moved on the Jerolim.
July 31 – Jerolim is an island town just off Hvar, a naturalist location where nobody wears clothes. It’s been windy creating swell rocking the boat.
Our interview we conducted while in Tunisia, we learned was published in the Ocean Navigator magazine. It was a follow-up to my published article in that magazine about the “Crossing of the Bay of Biscay”.
August 4 – Beautiful Croatia, a paradise for boaters with the hundreds of perfect bays and coves to drop anchor and enjoy the crystal clear warm waters, but even in paradise, there are thorns – the wind. Another storm was coming so we pulled up anchor and high-tailed it into the Zadar Marina. After our Bora experience in Albania, we no interest in challenging nature. On the strong southerlys, we moved 7-8 knots on the jib north to Zadar. Early evening, the winds changed to northerly's bringing rain and lightning overhead into the night and the next day. When the sun returned, we walked into the heart of the old city Zadar, we’re experiencing their "Full Moon Festival." The "Riva" like a boardwalk is lit by torches and candlelight and boats are turned into floating markets. There a cool thing in Zadar, steps descend into the Adriatic along the Riva where 35 pipes of different lengths, diameters and vertical tilts create seven chords and 5 tones. It’s the world’s only “Sea Organ.”
Moving on to Hvar, a crazy-busy, noisy, and expensive harbour where 60 euro gets you a buoy to tie to and too close to the next buoyed boat. We stopped for just 30 minutes, not wanting to pay the price and put up with disco noise at night. I rowed ashore, dumped our garbage, filled up with a few bags of groceries, and rowed back to the boat for departure to a quiet anchorage just around the corner. We visited Hvar on our honeymoon in 2004. It’s worth the disco noise.
August 8 -- With good east winds each morning, we're making our way north up Croatia's coast winding through the islands. This afternoon, we were the only ones at anchor in a quiet cove and enjoyed lunch in the cockpit. Finished with his noodles, Con tossed them overboard. Before he turned back, we heard the activity in the water and couldn’t believe what we saw! Fish EVERYWHERE. Big too, bigger than what we’d been used to and lots of them about 8-10 inches long with the black dots on their tails. We put on our masks to take a close-up look. From the ladder, peering under the boat, we could barely see water from FISH! They saw us looking at them and came right up to us. All the while I thought about the frantic way they ate the noodles. It was freaky.
By the end of the evening, 21 boats had anchored in our private cove. A guy in the boat next to us got out his guitar and sang for an hour. People aboard the other boats whistled and clapped.
August 10 -- Earlier this afternoon, we entered the Valata Marina, quickly learning it was a "naturalist" marina. The only person wearing clothes was the marinara. With the storm coming, their smaller marina was booked solid and we were turned away, but maybe because we were wearing bathing suits. We moved on to the Vrsar Marina, just 20 minutes further north, now in the northern part of Croatia, on the west coast of Istria. There are lots of shallows, so we’re watching our course carefully. It is also beautiful here. The city of Vrsar sits on a hilltop overlooking the marina and the view of the archipelagoes will knock your sandals off. There are 18 uninhabited islets.
August 12 – We motored around the islands and shoals to an anchorage just north, a perilous task with the dozens of rocky outcrops just breaking the surface of the water.
TO ITALY & SLOVENIA
August 14 -- Today's our 5th wedding anniversary! Entering the narrow channel leading to Grado, there were more shallows, at times lower than our keel draft. Entering the berth during a cross wind was though, but having to loop our lines through the awkward rings on the dolphins on either side of Big Sky was even more awkward. After fussing and forcing Big Sky in between the two dolphin posts, we gave up. She didn’t fit. I backed out – not too far, the shallows…
We sailed into Trieste, with a beautiful wind filling our sails. It looks like Venice, not surprisingly because it’s just across the Gulf. We’re now at the northern point of Croatia where Slovenia has small access to water, and then it borders with the north-east side of Italy. We motored down the waterway in our dinghy, tying to a high concrete wall so we could walk the delightful streets. Returning after lunch it was low tide, making an extreme challenge getting back into Little Sky.
August 15 – When we entered Trieste, Italy, we left the non-EU country Croatia for an EU country and did the correct procedure to check out and have our passports stamps. It’s important for us to count the days in and out of the EU to continue to be legal. Once in Trieste, Italy, the agent asked, “Where did you come from?” When we tried to tell him, “Croatia” he said, “No, Italy, right!” Finally, we said with somewhat of an understanding, “Right.” He thought check-in fell into the Too Hard basket.
We biked around the empty city, wondering how long they take siesta's here because nothing was open all day and into the evening. We learned from the harbour master that it was a holiday: Assumption Day. Everything is closed. In the blistering hot temperatures, finding shade in the parks felt good.
Moving on, we sailed passed Castello di Miramare, where Maximilian of Hapsburg last retreat of that dynasty was before relocating to Mexico where he was killed. As interest, a rumour still stands that Maximilian was really the son of Napoleon Bonaparte II (grandson to Napoleon Bonaparte I).
August 17 -- Slovenia is our 25th country with Big Sky! Visit routes for a maps. We arrived in the marina with dozens of dolphins, but they weren’t too social. The marinara ushered us forward into the skinny slip (with dolphin poles on each side) and as suspected, Big Sky was too wide. We mucked up our bumper strip -- again. We just had it repaired in Tunisia.
August 18 -- Slovenia's coast is small, not leaving a lot of room for beach. Slovenians flock to the sea-side towns and camp right on the sidewalks. We stepped over and around them -- everywhere.
The former states of Yugoslavia (Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro) stand between eastern and western Europe. They've climbed out of their 15-years of bloody war, but it’s not all as peaceful as they like you to believe. They've realized the international tourists dollars are good, and that in 1982, Croatia got the better coastal border deal. So, Slovenia is having it out with Croatia. They've drawn what the EU is calling an "illegal" border zone (see the map below) patrolled heavily.
By land, they're charging the Croatians what is deemed "extortion" (35 euro to cross 12 kilometres). Slovenia entered the EU a few years ago, having solved the border issue with Croatia. Now that they're "in" and Croatia is wanting in, the Slovenians are making these outrageous demands of Croatia before they're able to join. The EU believes Slovenia's claims are absurd. Slovenia's current government and opposing government believe that the whole of the Istria peninsula should be Slovenia's. (The Istria peninsula is the point of Croatian's land left of the Median Line shown). March, 2009, the EU suggested the two countries take it to the courts, but Slovenia doesn’t want any part of that.
While in Italy, we bought Prosciutto (four different varieties), Parmesan cheese and coffee. In Slovenia, we stocked up on tomatoes, cucumbers, nectarines and grapes. We've just finished the last of the oh-so-delicious Croatian feta cheese, but we'll be there in a few days for more. We dropped the anchor and took the Zodiac into the sleepy town of Isola, Slovenia to have a look around.
August 22 -- On our way south down the Croatian west coast, we motored into Rovinj for the day, setting up on a quay in the centre of town. Rovinj is beautiful, built on an island of limestone rock, densely packed with Venetian-coloured (pastels of every shade) medieval townhouses curving around it. The townhouses are separated by small cobblestone walk-ways and a few centre plazas. At the top on the island is a church and elegant bell tower. The town was packed with artists of every genre. We attempted to take photos, but our camera gave up.
Trying to check back into Croatia was an impossibility. No matter how Con tried to explain that we’d checked out, showing the stamp, they’d flip through the book to say, “You have a Croatian stamp. Go. No more stamps!” Con gave up.
August 26 -- Days are blending as we frolic in the warm seas from anchor to anchor. In a lovely bay, at the top of Dugi Otok Island, one of the outer islands of Croatia's many islands, we had complete privacy, except for a few fishermen entering the bay from time to time in tiny row boats. Boating in Croatia is exceptional. You must buy a cruising log, 230 euro, which we begrudged at first, but more than happy to support investing in this special piece of the world. The seas are well marked, and the villages preserved. The Croatians know the valuable resource they have. We rowed to shore exploring the desolate beach observing that somebody had painstakingly planted tomatoes and left to overgrow. Con enjoyed a few.
August 27 -- We saw a whale today! Pulling up anchor and just motored out of the bay, a solo Mink Whale was hunting just 12 meters from our boat moving in slow circles, arching his back and blowing water out of his air hole.
More addicted to the waters every day, we couldn’t wait to drop anchor and snorkel. There were different fish from what we've been used to, small and attractive. Some of them looked good to eat. It's not unusual to see people swimming with spear-guns and leaving the bay with a bag full of fish. We ended the afternoon in a 1 ½ hour wait for diesel at the Zadar Marina. A British yacht ahead of us, not the biggest we've seen, but nevertheless, we counted five staff members took 13,000 litres, $100,000 Kuna, (CND$21,000). We topped up our diesel taking on 500 litres. I drove forward, lined up for the quay, perhaps a bit too close as the wind was blowing slightly pushing us to the dock. Nothing I couldn't handle, I thought. Then the ferry blasted three times, which means it's backing up, directly toward our port side. The wash immediately pushed Big Sky against a moored fishing boat and nearly crashed our bow into the concrete. What a panic! Con scrubbed the blue fishing boat paint off our hull and all was well.
August 31 -- Roc and Lori arrive! A few days ago, our Calgary friends met up with us in Zadar. Rain and thunder threatened for a day and arrived the next night while we were at anchor causing us to scurrying around the boat in the dark closing hatches.
Mars was shining brightly in the night sky, the closest it will be to Earth in something like 700 years.
Just as we were identifying the perfect spot to drop our anchor, again we spotted Mink Whales – two this time, swimming in the bay! The wind was picking up, and with a bit of maneuvering, we managed to get the anchor in the perfect spot, Con swam the line ashore, and climbed back onto Big Sky satisfied and ready for a break. Then we smelled it – the garbage dump just above our heads on the hillside. Promptly pulling up anchor we motored to another fantastic, calm, quiet spot between two rock cliffs. Con again swam ashore and secured our line. We settled into the pilot house for a late Mediterranean platter prepared aboard: chicken, sausages, pork, and a Greek Salad.
September 1 -- We've had great sailing winds as we venture south through the Croatian islands. We sailed into two smaller towns yesterday, stopping in Sibernik at the quay for the night and to stock up on good foods at the market. Sibernik is a medieval town filled with steep winding alleyways and terra cotta rooftop houses and a Cathedral of St Jacob, built between 1431 and 1536 with 74 faces running around the outer walls. These are the faces of the citizens of Sibernik "too stingy" to contribute to the building of the church, so they created the statues and planted them around the church!
It was Roc and Lori's night to cook and they treated us a beautiful restaurant in old town. In the morning, we sailed to a small fishing village, tied onto a buoy and rowed ashore (Roc swam). Not wanting the day to end, we picked up anchor and sailed further dropping the hook around dinner time in a quiet bay on the island of Hvar.
September 2 -- Lori, Roc, Con and I arrived in Trogir, an ancient town built on an island in the strait between the Croatian mainland and an island. We anchored in the straight.
Trogir is actually surrounded by water. The city walls and gates wrap around the island enclosing the medieval city within, with most of the buildings dating between the 13th and 14th century. Traces of life have been found from the early Stone Age, dating back 50,000. Pottery and other fragments of houses can be dated from 2,000 years BC.
September 5 -- We're currently motoring a knot or two faster than our usual speed trying to outrun a nasty northern storm. Long and loud lightning bolts are splitting the dark sky. We're about 30 minutes to the downtown Split marina, and hope the storm will move behind us and away from the city. Two nights ago, we spent a noisy night tied to a downtown buoy in Hvar. The harbour waters were rocking from the many boats, and without a breath of wind, the boats laid helter skelter. The boat just beside us got behind us and its bow took a chunk out of our stern! Roc took the helm as we sailed from Hvar to our next anchorage. The winds were 20 - 24 knots on the beam, and at times directly from behind. The boat soared at 7 nearing 8 knots. Settled into the bay, we cracked open a cold bottle of champagne to celebrate – “Life”.
September 6 -- Roc and Lori left for Calgary this morning after a fabulous week together. We experienced great winds, beautiful anchorages, clear star-filled nights, delicious meals and most of all, wonderful friendship.
Remaining in the Split Marina, Con and I have been entertained by the charter boat captains attempt to exit and enter in 20+ knot winds.
Standing guard, pushing off boats, hand-hold positioning fenders, we've saved Big Sky from sure disaster over and over again. Boats are either blowing to within inches of our stern because the inexperienced captains aren't giving enough forward motion to get out of the narrow pontoon aisles, or through their nervousness, they're gunning their engines and crashing into boats. Bow anchors are tangling, stanchions (the side rails) are snapping, boat sides are scraping, and some down and out crashes. One marinara decided he could get everybody out and save the boats. He’d jump on one after another, shout instructions, gun the boat, and let the captain take over as he turned to exit the marina, then quickly jump on the next boat. When it was safe to leave the marina, we walked into town to check it out.
The photo of Split gives a view of the Diocletian's Palace that takes up an enormous amount of city space. It's the best preserved Roman building in Croatia, built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 235 BC.
September 7 -- Happy Birthday one-year-old Dex!
September 9 -- Arriving yesterday at the Island of Vis on 20-25 knot winds, we tied onto the town quay. With the sun shining, and a slight wind on our bow, we motored slowly the next day to our next anchorage in front of the town of Komiza. About 10 minutes out of the harbour, a pod of whales followed our route for about an hour before crossing our bow and heading out further to sea.
At first they were a bit shy, keeping a safe distance behind us. Rather than going around us, they moved closer to our stern and starboard, and I thought they were swimming in perfect speed with us for nearly an hour, until Con told me he was moving THEIR speed. They glided effortlessly, diving every so many minutes and surfacing again for air.
September 14 -- We've finished the last of our snacks and are down to one remaining package of linguini, so it's time to move on to Vela Luka to fill up the pantry. Three days ago, we settled into the cockpit with snacks, after having dropped the anchor in a near-perfect bay (good shelter on three sides and a strong mud hold for the anchor). Looking at the sea opening, I called out, “Look Con, another boat is coming in."
We watched its approach and the closer it got the more familiar it looked. John and Sara from Monastir, Tunisia, our British friends were arriving. Con watched it approach and it was looking more and more familiar. We spent enjoyed a few days together sharing great meals, stories, and laughs.
A lightning storm having been threatening us throughout the day snuck in last night and with it strong swells in the bay making Big Sky pull hard on the anchor. The wind blew around us, the lightning lit up the pitch-black night illuminating the five or six other boats at anchor. When the storm moved overhead at 3 am, we wrapped our laptops and GPS's in a towel and stuffed them into the oven -- the most insulated place on Big Sky. We woke this morning to another sunny day and calm seas, with the thunder rumbling faintly in the distance.
September 15 -- The Island of Korcula is as beautiful as we remembered it was when we were here five years ago.
We spend the night in a quiet bay calm bay, but the Adriatic kicked up in the night creating huge swells. We left in the confused sea about noon for the Island of Mljet. Big Sky climbed high and sliced hard on the swells, causing water to spray over the dodger.
September 18 – Happy birthday Lindsey! Con couldn't resist our visiting the tiny hamlet of Okuklje (Oh kuk la ya) because of its name. It's a bay with about six or eight restaurant- houses lining the shore, each with a concrete quay and each with the ability to have two boats tie on. The price tag is a meal in their restaurant. You'd completely miss the inlet if you sailed past the coast because it's nestled so deep in and around a hillside, offering mariners shelter from storms from nearly all directions. The bay in fact is surrounded by beautiful mountains covered in a rainbow of green shades. We'd just tied the back mooring line when lightning crackled around us -- again. Big Sky was washed with a 30-minute rainfall, the kind that gives you goosebumps. We met two Canadians on a charter boat and invited them for a drink in the early evening. It reminded us of the great comradery among sailors. Con and I ended the night with a delicious fish dinner at the restaurant. This morning, the sun is shining brightly -- it's hot -- no wind as we're making our way south toward Montenegro.
September 19 -- It's a sunny day for our departure from Croatia to Montenegro. Con went to the Customs & Immigration to check out. Again, it became a confusing mess.
“You can’t check out because you haven’t arrived,” said the agent flipping through our passports seeing the original check in stamp, and our check out stamp in the north. Con explained when returning from Italy, the agent wouldn’t stamp our passports. “He refused,” he added.
The agent pushed the passports back through the hole in the window saying, “Not my problem.”
Con pushed them back under the window, “Not my problem.”
Eventually, the agent called someone in the north and they settled the confusion by reluctantly stamping our passports.
Montenegro declared its independence in just 2006. They recognize major ethnic groups living in the country: Montenegrins, Serbs, Bosniaks, Muslims, Albanians and Croats. The number of Montenegrins and Serbs fluctuates wildly from census to census, not because of real changes in the populace, but due to how people experience their identity.
Last night, we attempted to stay in a bay around the corner from Dubrovnik but had to move when a ferry tied up beside us. We motored passed hotels and houses in the bay pot-holed with bullets and holes from bombs.
September 21 -- We motored to the dock in Montenegro, tied up, and Con took our papers to check in. The female agent asked, “Where is your boat?” Con pointed out the window to the spot right in front. In an agitated state she responded, “THIS is the border,” running her hand up and down on a make-belief line in the water. “You must dock back here,” a spot a few meters back.
“Do you want me to move the boat?”
With hands on her hips, she looked exasperated, “No.” We then purchased a one-week cruising permit and will make the most of our short visit in Montenegro.
Montenegro's coast is bordered by Croatia to the north, Albania to the south. We’re in the Gulf of Kotor, on the anchor, an incredibly picturesque spot. The town's population is maybe squeaking in at 13,000. It’s the most indented part of the Adriatic and is referred to as the southern-most fjord in Europe. In the past few decades, the area has had lot of earthquake activity. Kotor was devastated in the 1979 with a 7.0 earthquake that lasted 10 second. It took down the town, but left the walls. UNESCO helped to rebuild it. Then, there has been the political devastation from the Yugoslav Wars in the 90s.
we climbed to the top of the fortress, nearly 300 meters above sea level for a spectacular bird’s-eye view. The area has barely been touched by tourism because the need for cruising permits discourages them and their economy could sure use some tourism injection. Cruisers sail right by. A loss for everybody.
The Gulf of Kotor is a submerged river canyon with city walls climbing up the limestone cliffs and the town hanging on at the top.
We ordered a Vrat for lunch, not knowing what we'd get and hoping it wasn't "rat." It was a port loin sandwich for 3 Euro. The ice cream we'll have tomorrow.
September 22 -- The sun was out, as were the dolphins. Motoring, because there’s been no wind, we’ve explored the Montenegrin coast. Viewing the high cliff surrounded by water, we could see the church. There’s no access in or out.
We rounded the corner and into the touristy town of Budva where all the medieval buildings have been converted to designer shops. We stayed at anchor one night and moved on to the town of Bar.
September 26 -- We rented a car and traveled 810 kilometers up to the top of the Balkan Mountains, down into the canyons, around and through the rocks, over bridges on two-lane two-way roads, one-lane two-way roads, gravel roads, often thousands of meters above cliffs with no guard rails, hanging on by the tire threads of our rental car. We made our way through Montenegro, to Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina, winding through the Federated Bosnia Herzegovina, through Serbia and back to Big Sky. The beauty and rawness strikes us as something profound that we’ve never been witness to before.
Everybody’s home (and businesses) are heated by wood. Stacks and stacks of wood piles were being prepared for the cold winter to come. Basements and often first floors, and balconies were piled with chopped wood.
Con asked one of the guys chopping if he could have a go at it since we’d watched him chopping for some hours now. Young guys stopped to cheer Con on.
September 30 -- Our anticipated 25-hour motor/sail from Montenegro to Brindisi, Italy turned out to be a beautiful 19 1/2 hour-sail with a 12-16 knot wind on the beam and just three or four blobs showing on our radar. Brindisi is located on the eastern side of Italy about in the middle of the outer east edge of the “boot” heal. We tied to a quay right in front of the old town. An official walked over saying, “Just back up behind this flower pot, and there is no fee.” (Con stayed six weeks, I went home for part of that time to be with my dad whose health was beginning to fail.)
English isn't too widely spoken and because there aren’t many tourists, especially Canadian’s we believed was the reason so many people stopped to take photos. The Italians are certainly social. A typical day: Offices and shops open around 8:30 or 9 am and close at noon or 1 pm and by maybe 5 pm, they reopen. People stroll. Families stroll. And they talk talk talk. Men will walk by, stopping to swing their arms in expressive conversation, and then carry on with their stroll. By 8 pm, the streets and promenade is choker-block full of people, kids laughing, biking, crying. This continues until 11 pm and then all is quiet again.
October 2 – Mom sent an email sharing some realities we weren’t aware of about dad’s health. Both mom and dad never want to burden us with health issues, so it’s not a surprise that they didn’t write sooner. But receiving the email, I knew things were becoming difficult. I flew from Brindisi, and Con happily remained at the quay making friends with the locals.
BACK TO ITALY
October 24 – I had a cherished visit with mom and dad and learning about dad’s cancer. He’s a tough guy, but the cancer seems to be creating a lot of discomfort for him. Mom is a gem, there for him before he asks. I flew back to Con, joining him on the quay in Brindisi where he has remained for the last few weeks. Brindisi is a special town. Buying bread, cookies showed up in the bag; buying cheese, a cheese knife was put in the bag; and he dentist put Con’s crown back on his tooth, “No charge.” With no electricity and access to water, our 1600 litres beginning to deplete, departure is near.
October 22 – The Appian Way begins in Brindisi, 100 meters behind us. Caesar and Pompeius had their epic fight and it's also where Antonio and Octavianus divided the Roman Empire. In a rental, we left Big Sky to drive north through the country-side driving through the white and blue villages on the Murge hills reaching ancient villages built around castles. Thousands of small windows look out over the panorama of sea and olive groves. The coast-line gave us remarkable views as we climbed up higher. The roads where tiny, and lined with millions and millions of rocks.
As we neared Arbelbello, we spotted the Trulli houses and farms. Originally designed in the 14th century, with the idea that they could be quickly destroyed to avoid tax, they’re still being built today for their cool appeal. Both cool-cold, and cool-neat concept. Each had a cysteine so they had their own water supply from within, and painted white inside for coolness in the summer, but condensation in the winter made them very cold. They added a fire-burning feature in the center, and I couldn’t help but compare them to teepees.
The country is covered in beautiful rich red earth, olive trees and stones.
October 23 -- Dante, an Italian man about 40 was fishing near our boat. A ferry went by, caught his line, pulled his rod into the water, and dragged it to the boat behind us. I quickly called to the man aboard to “Catch!” and he did. I handed it to Dante, and from that moment on, I was the saviour, the hero, his best friend, and…
Day one: Dante brought baking from, “Mama’s kitchen”. I thanked him and baked cookies for him and some for mama.
Day two: Dante arrived with a bottle of award-winning wine, “From papa’s cellar”. He waited for us to spot him standing in the pouring rain in front of our windows.
Day three: he invited us to his “Uncle’s for dinner. I will pick you up at 4:30 pm.”
I baked two lemon loaves; one for “mama” and one as a thank you gift for dinner at his uncles.
“Oh, the wine was fabulous, can we buy a case?” Con asked Dante.
After uncomfortable silence he responded, “I don’t know if I can get papa’s key.”
Con and I looked at each other with concern, and we carried on to Dante’s, “Uncle’s house” where we had been invited for dinner. Arriving, we quickly realized it was a restaurant. They wouldn’t let Dante in until he flashed some euros in the window. (Con and I stole another glance at each other.)
Once seated, Dante took me into the kitchen where chefs were preparing and I offered my dinner gift – the lemon loaf. Awkward? Yes! We had no idea it was a restaurant. But, it began to get more awkward from there. Dante wanted me to come with him to the back door to see the kittens – not Con. I followed, saw the cats, and he gathered me into his arms as if THAT’S what you do when you see kittens. Back at the table, Dante (sitting across from me) kept trying to make eye contact. Con completely oblivious to what was going on, excused himself to go to the bathroom. Dante could barely control his mouth and fingers doing sexual gestures. Sheesh. Con, still unaware, said, “Dante, this has been a great night, do you want to sail with us to Ortrante tomorrow.”
“I have to look after the animals,” he said with great disappointment.
We chuckled about how odd the whole thing was, went to sleep, woke around 7:30 am only to see Dante at our side window with his hands cupping his eyes to see inside. I went outside, shocked to see him there, wondering how I could uninvite him to sail with us. He said, "I've been here since 5 am."
"Oh," I added to the conversation I wish I wasn't having and volunteered, "we have to go now, and thanks again for last night."
It took us about 10 minutes from that conversation to untying from the quay and waving "good bye". We didn't stop for anything, not even the honking ferry since we cut him off.
A month earlier, when we tried to check “In” to Brindisi a few days after we arrived. The Customs lady was so mad at us for not coming immediately, that she couldn’t form English words and shouted from the top of the stairs, “UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN” gesturing that she was watching us, pointing two fingers to her eyes and then to us and back. Since she wouldn’t stamp our passport in, we just left.
October 28 – In Ortranto, we were again at the quay, no electricity to recharge the batteries, especially because we sailed most of the way. (Using the engine will recharge batteries.) No water either and it’s getting low and incredibly, we’d been using our water for two months. The slip in Ortranto left no room for error, as the lines were crossed wildly from one boat to another. Hoping for an early start for our sail to Greece, Con backed up ever to carefully, but couldn't get past the crazy lines before Big Sky was blown starboard fouling the prop on the neighbours anchor line. Con jumped into the 18 degree water and an hour later, Big Sky was freed from the line. The next morning, we sailed on to a Greek island arriving just at sunset and dropped the anchor for the night.
Now in Plantarias, Greece, we plugged in and filled the tanks, washed three loads of laundry, scrubbed Big Sky inside and out, and went out for -- what else -- Greek food.
October 30 -- Hopping from mainland western Greece to the Greek Ionian Islands, we're taking in the last warm days of the year. The charter sailboat business is closed for the season, leaving Big Sky and a few other cruisers in the Ionian with us. Moisture is thick by night, but burns off by day.
November 1 -- On our way from Lefkas, Greece to Frikes on the island of Ithaca, a fishing boat surrounded by birds passed behind us – that was it. Most cruisers are tucked in for the winter. The weather is still beautiful, enough warmth for Con to dive below Big Sky for a look at the bow thruster. It's given up -- again!
"In Ithaca there are not wide courses, nor meadowlands at all. It is a pasture land of goats, and more pleasant in my sight than one which pastureth horses..." Homer Odyssey
We had lunch with two locals in the Frikes Taverna.
November 4—Arrived in the Messolonghi, marina, a swamp-like location not too far from town, we got out our bikes. The marina is 1.5 km from the authentic town, barely touched by tourism with streets lined with gorgeous orange trees. Lemons, mandarins, and olive grow in abundance. Getting to the marina by sea is through a three-mile canal dug through the swamp. They harvest salt there. It will be our winter location, but we have more sailing in the area. The lagoon is full of birds, black cormorants, white birds, and teaming with fish.
When we arrived last Sunday – barbeque day for the cruisers, we quickly prepared a Greek salad and joined in. The local fishermen brought freshly caught fish. We met a British family staying here for the winter, Sara, David and their two kids, a boy 10 and girl 11. The kids are home schooled, but during their stay in Messolonghi, they're going to Greek school. Sara works aboard, transcribing medical journals and their daily blogs are featured in a sailing magazine.
The anticipated, the rain arrived and the storm downgraded from flooding previously anticipated. As night moved in, so did the rain for our ride back to the marina and very soon, intersections filled with giant puddles. In the dark (no bike lights) we attempted to ride around them, but often through and then not knowing how deep they might be. Nearing the marina gate, (dark because it’s under construction and they haven’t put up lights yet) not able to see the noses in front of our faces, we heard the sounds of wild dogs packs. Gratefully, people dump dog food bags nearby so they’re not starved. The dogs didn’t come out to us, too wet, which was a relief since a huge piece of stinky sausage was in my backpack. Nearly biking right INTO the gate, Con dismounted, pulled back the latch and we were in. Remembering the 20 meter deep x 20 meter wide hole in the marina devoid of protective gate, we biked near the water edge to avoid it.
Albertine, Con sister arrives in a few hours for a few weeks sailing and touring.
November 5 – The three of us left Messolonghi through the Gulf of Corinth to Trizonia The gulf is a deep inlet of the Ionian Sea separating the Peloponnese from the western mainland of Greece. We sailed under the Rio Andirrion bridge at the Gulf's narrowest point and one of Europe’s most seismically active regions. The gulf was created by the tectonic plates expanding (10 mm per year).
November 6 -- Unfortunately, the German owner of this ketch in Trizonia hit ground or rocks a few years ago managing to enter the marina. He'd ordered pumps, but when the bill arrived, he refused to pay. The pumps went back to Athens and the boat sunk.
November 7 – Twenty minutes by bus from Itea we arrived at the ancient site of Delphi built high in the cliffs on terraces, looking ready to topple into the Plistos Gorge below. The Delphi Temple of Apollo the place of the famous oracle. In ancient days, people were deemed psychic and would translate the messages from the Delphi oracle. The oracle is located on two fault lines and it is believed that steam of hallucinate properties would be released. The pillars have been preserved from the 3rd century BC. Other temples were destroyed by fire and earthquakes from the 6th and 7th century. The oracle was said to be under the floors of the Temple of Apollo. People would come from all over to have their fortunes told or wishes granted. A woman "priestess known as the Pythia" would hear the question and provide an answer only when she was in a trance -- induced by the vapour-filled adyton. Her nonsense would be translated only by the priests for their convenience for a suitable fee. Two fault lines meet under the Temple and the vapour were poisonous gasses.
November 9 -- We sailed by but not through the Corinthian Canal this morning. The canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. Once through, you're on your way to Turkey. It's 6.3 kilometers long, built in 1893. All the way back to the 7th century BC rulers have tried to cut a route. Caesar was engineering a canal but was assassinated before he could complete the plan. Nero launched an excavation, personally breaking the ground with a pickaxe, but died shortly afterwards. The Romans put 6,000 Jewish prisoners to work digging 40 - 50 meter trenches, but that was never completed. Following the Panama Canal's success, they set to work again and drills dug through the rock.
Tied to the Corinth harbour -- no security and no lights four men boarded Big Sky at 2:30 am. I heard their quiet climb aboard, grabbed my housecoat and from the pilot house, the guys were fiddling with the companionway door and then began using Con’s sandal banging on the plexiglass. I knocked loudly form the inside and shouted even louder "GET OFF THE BOAT!" They said "sorry, sorry, sorry," and retreated. Con woke just when they were walking down the pier. Albertine obviously sleeps even more soundly and woke after that, both asking why I was making so much noise.
In the morning, I urged Con to walk with me to see if we could see the men. Along the way, we collected one of Con's sandals. Spotting four guys on a bench, I called to them, hands on hips, “WERE YOU ON OUR BOAT LAST NIGHT?”
One guy eagerly said, “Yes, okay, we wash boat.”
Weather and sea are delicious, we moved on staying at the quay in Galixihi, and then further stuffed ourselves with baklava in Andikron.
November 10 – It was blowing madly at the public quay in the quiet town of Galaxidhi. Big Sky was the only boat there and enjoying free electricity and Wi-Fi. The town was bursting in full-bloom bougainvilleas.
November 15 – Visiting the Ancient Olympic Games site in Olympia, (766 BC) we likely walked every square inch. Many myths are written about their origin. One is that Zeus initiated the festival after his defeat of his predecessor, the Titan Cronus. Winners of the various sports would be given free food for the rest of his life, an oxen, and other goodies. Even in ancient times, athletes tried to cheat. They would sometimes be caught drinking the blood of the bull for the steroids. Later, the drink Red Bull was marketed based on the history. The cheaters would have to have a statue built of them so people could walk by and spit on it. Women were not allowed to compete or to even attend the games. When some would disguise themselves and snuck in to compete, they declared the games to be held in the nude. If a woman was caught at the site, they would be thrown off a nearby mountain! You had to be a Greek citizen and male. The kick-off began with the flame.
November 18 – Now returned to Messolonghi, our winter destination, the sub-culture of the live-aboard community surfacing. Messolonghi has the best winter price in this region, about $9 CND per day. It’s a young university town, celebrating siesta seriously. Everything is closed by 12:30 not opening again until 5 or 6 pm, and then only for a few more hours. We’ll be out after dark again (going to a futball came) and packed headband lights this time for our return to the marina.
November 21 -- Con was frightened by a Gypsy woman. She wasn't allowed to bring her dripping bag of chicken parts into the store and was told to leave it at the door. While waited for me to pay the bill, Con was standing at the door when her bag split and slimy chicken parts covered the concrete. She stopped scooping up the parts and gave Con a look that could kill. He was intimidated.
November 23 – Our bikes are in the bike shop for an overall. We toured “Hero Park”, built to remember the Greek War of Independence between the Ottoman Empire and Greek rebels in 1825-26. The Turks surrounded the city by land and sea locking the Greeks in for nearly a year, intent to starve them. During a planned escape, a Greek tipped off the Turks and most of the citizens were slaughtered (7,000 dead, 1,000 survived). The Turks then invaded the next day, Palm Sunday, but most of the Greeks blew themselves up with gunpowder rather than surrender. Those survivors were sold into slavery. The Turks displayed 3,000 severed heads on the walls.
November 25 – Boat maintenance time, but that’s the way it is in the winter. We re-caulked both bathrooms, took down the jib to store, fixed scratches and gashes to the gel coat, organized clothes to donate and replace sea cocks (which we’ll do when we return from Canada). We attended Greek language lessons in the morning, the talk on the Red Sea in the afternoon, and participated in the music night in the cruisers room. Con borrowed a guitar and strummed beautifully to "Sloop John B."
November 29 – We packed a bag for a few days in Athens. First stop: the Acropolis. It was a beautifully sunny day, perfect for hiking around the big three hectares of rock and around the restored temples and ancient statues. Throughout the Acropolis, a three hectare hill, about 490 feet above sea level, there are a number of preserved temples. Acropolis means “higher city”, built in the 6th century for strategic defense. People aren’t sure of the Parthenon Temple’s original purpose, but while under construction in 480 BC, the Persians burned it down. It was dedicated to the goddess Athena Pallas (a virgin) and maybe built to protect the gold and ivory statute of Athena. Its massive foundations are made of limestone, and the columns of Pentelic marble, a material then that was utilized for the first time.
November 30, 2009 -- Day two in Athens we wore the tread off our shoes hiking the city. We walked to the original stadium of the new (1800s) modern Olympic games, and to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It’s a colossal-sized ruined temple dedicated Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, constructed in the 6th century. The temple's glory was short lived when it was pillaged in a barbarian invasion in the 3rd century.
December 1, 2009 – Day three in Athens, another fantastic day! With map in hand, we snaked all over the city via subway, foot, and 12 euro funicular. Can you believe, the visit to the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora was FREE! The first Sunday of every month – no fee.
Walking back to Syntagmotos Square (the place where everybody likes to riot and protest) it was in full swing. Riot police moved in, busses of them poured out into the street in full combat apparel including bullet-proof vests and al carrying shields. The national guard roared up another road and piled out of their busses. Crowd control water trucks blocked off the square in front of the Parliament buildings. Within the hour, an organized demonstration took place with the message that they didn't like the job cuts, inefficiencies and corruption in the government. During the whole craziness, the Parliament guards stationed in front of the building continued their timed high-footed march.
IN THE NETHERLANDS
December 5 -- Sinterklaas Day!
We joined Nomie at her housing complex for a Sinterklaas party. Sinterklaas who looks a lot like Santa Claus, joined by Zwarte Piet (Black Pete – a black person, or a white person painted black) is uniquely Dutch and Flemish and celebrated on the 5th December. Not a religious celebration and meant for kids everybody loves it. However, in songs and legends, Sinterklaas was a kind-hearted Bishop, born in Turkey centuries ago and on the 5th December comes from Spain to give gifts. Zwarte Piet is the antagonist, so if you’re bad, he'll hit you with his chimney brush and you won't get any candies and if you're really bad, you are taken to Spain. This is the main day that for gift exchanges and only of very small values. Con’s family keeps the value about 5 euro and lots of creativity and poems.
December 13 -- Nomie, Con and I decided to attend a church Christmas concert where it said in the newspaper "traditional Christmas songs to sing along to..." We arrived to a full out Fundamentalist Protestant church sermon with three choirs. Women wear skirts or dresses, so despite being dressed in nice slacks, I clearly got the message that I wasn’t presentable by the church goers. It was a long two hours. Later the whole Sprenger family gathered at Anna’s (Con's sister) for traditional pea soup dinner.
December 26 – Fun days! Celebrating the holiday with our grandkids and kids in Calgary, Red Deer, and in Carrot River.