καλό χειμώνα, Sikya


Good winter, Sikya.  It’s the standard leave-taking in Greece at summer’s end.  As always, leaving is bittersweet; we’re anxious to see our family and friends in the States but sorry to leave our friends and family in Greece.  The weather this September was spectacular.  From the time we got back to Greece on 26 August until the morning we left (October 3), it was mild and sunny, warm enough for a swim, cool enough to lie on the beach without suffering.  Meals on the balcony have been a delight, and there’s been a very pleasant northwest breeze almost everyday.

The Sikya fleet maintained at least a shadow presence until the last day — a first for us.  And anglers were particularly active this September — both from the beach and in boats in the cove the activity seemed frenetic.  Our peeks at the catch buckets revealed some very nice panfish, a sea-change from the little gavros we usually see reeled ashore.  Adonis was his usual steady self, working out ceaselessly on the beach and in the sea but he, too, is different this year.  With his hair cropped short, and his beard grown out, he’s scarcely recognizable.  Susan said, “It’s like he’s had a head transplant.  I had to look at his body to make sure it was him.” Perhaps he’d take some consolation in that.  And the comedy show we refer to as The Mayor also saw a new act.  When we returned from our trip to Thessaloniki in mid September, the mayor’s boat, know to us as The Scow, was beached in the crook of the cove.  We thought perhaps the mayor had made a desperate miscalculation in attempting to save a few euros on winter docking fees.  Surely the surf would pound that part of the cove all the way to the seawall during winter storms.  But, indeed, The Scow was floating again a couple of days later, albeit a bit lower in the water.  And finally, during the last weekend, we saw a fishing boat giving The Scow a brisk tow in the general direction of the Xylokastro marina.  The mayor’s beach outpost, which grew to gypsy camp splendor this year, took on a decidedly neglected aspect, and the mayor could be spied sitting among the ruins staring disconsolately out to the spot in the cove where The Scow had formerly been moored.

The splendid, dreamy, ideal weather appeared to be coming to an end, however;  the rains had begun.  In the wee hours of 1 October we got a downpour which I estimated at an inch — the most rainfall we’ve witnessed in Greece.  By dawn, however, the sky was cobalt once again and a line of clouds drifted below the top of Mt. Elikonas, across the Gulf.  And the morning we left, in the dark of 4-blinking-30 AM, in a rented Suzuki SX4, I had my first opportunity in 6 months to drive in the rain on our way to the airport.

The last full moon of this year’s trip was while we were visiting Thessaloniki.  It was wonderful seeing it rise over the city but we missed sitting on the beach in Sikya, peering to the east every few seconds, until suddenly, finally, it’s there: larger and closer than we’d expected.

It feels like it’s time to leave.  Our apartment complex is virtually empty, and we’ve wished a good winter to many of our neighbors.  The plateia, so busy on summer evenings, saw only a few kids each night the last 4 weeks, and recently dwindled to none.  The silence, so fervently longed-for, now seems lonely.  We laid in bed this morning, waiting for the 3:00 am alarm, listening to the surf bursting on the beach (a rare treat), thinking of the changing seasons, of time passing irredeemably.  Time to get up and go.  Good winter, Sikia.

Sunrise, Sunset

We don’t often see the sun rise and set over the Gulf on the same day. Principally because I try to avoid the obscenely early hours but also because, from our balcony, the sun sets over the mountains behind us. Sunday was an exception because we got up absurdly early (what the coxswain on the ’03-’07 WAC crew team referred to as “the ass-crack of dawn”) so we could run before the heat of day. I grabbed this snap of the sunrise at its northern-most position on the horizon (in a few weeks, it will have moved south again and be hidden behind the building on the right).


That evening, we went for a beer at a little beach bar in the pine forest near us, and watched clouds blow over the Gulf toward us as the sun settled below the horizon. No post-processing on this one.


One of the things we love about this place is that we spend a lot of time outside, and on this day, that time extended from before dawn until well after sunset.

Walking around Sikia

When Sue and her sister were galavanting around Greece a few weeks ago, I took a couple of walks around the village with my camera. Nearing sunset, the light is usually great on the mountains but on at least one of these days, we had a heavy load of atmospheric dust, which produced a milky sky. These are the pick of the litter.

Walking around Sikia

This is a building on the beach that previously we had seen used only as a polling place.  Over the winter, it was substantially restored for use as a special needs school.  We passed by during the opening day ceremony and have since seen the class playing outside.  Not a bad place to go to school…


There was still quite a bit of snow atop Mt. Parnassos (about 8000 ft.) at the end of March.  There’s still snow up there but it’s getting pretty threadbare.


I love seeing the flowers on the beach.  They’re very fleeting, though.


Someone put a fantastic coat of paint on this boat over the winter.


This one and the next one were both shot in the Super Vivid setting of my camera in an effort to capture the hues of the sunset.


This is a 20x zoom. I love the shape of this peak but it’s my photographic nemesis — it’s so far away that it always appears shrouded in haze.


I like to take photos of the old, unrestored houses in Sikia because I’m afraid they’ll all be torn down some day.  I think the owner uses the top floor of this one as his beach house.


This one, however, was nicely restored and it’s next door to the house in the previous photo.


This ruin belonged to the last Turkish ruler in this area.  It now belongs to the Greek state.


I’ve shot this one before but I liked the oars propped up in the middle this time.






These trees are related to the Salt Cedar (tamarisk) tree we have in the States.   They flourish with their roots in salt water.



That’s Mt. Ellikonas, about 13 miles away.  It had snow on it when we arrived in mid-March.


Another “Super Vivid” photo.  Mt.  Gerania on the right.


I shot the sunset from the old railroad bridge in back of the apartment.

I hope you enjoyed these snaps.  I had a good time shooting them.

addendum to A Trip to the Mani

I know food porn is supposed to be out now and we’re not supposed to be snapping photos of our meals but I still really like to look at food pix and I couldn’t resist grabbing a couple of shots of the breakfast served to us in our room at the B&B in Aeropoli.


We ordered tea, OJ, plain yogurt, and Mani pitas.  Those are the Mani pitas on the right.  They are simply fried dough and they are outrageous.  The two little cups of honey and the cup of marmalade are for spooning over the pitas.  Which I did — both honey and marmalade.  The orange juice had just been squeezed from local oranges.


Oh, and we asked for fruit with our yogurt.

We skipped lunches, spend the 3 days walking around, and I still gained a pound.  Worth it.

A Trip to the Mani

The Mani is the southernmost peninsula in the southernmost part of Greece.  It’s a stark, barren landscape of rock, sea, and sky and it is renowned throughout Greece for its harsh geography and fierce  inhabitants.  It’s also the home of Susan’s forebears, so we have a special affinity for the place.  We particularly like to visit in the early Spring when wildflowers pop from between the rocks and the gray, ashen hills are transformed into a vista one might expect to see in Ireland.  We drove down for a visit at the end of March, and put up at a sweet B&B in Areopoli.

Areopoli is the unofficial capital of the Mani.  Its name, city of Ares (the  god of war), refers to the city’s place as the starting point of the war of independence. On March 17, 1821, independence was declared in the square of the church of the Archangels in the center of Areopoli, and the Maniots immediately marched on the Ottoman garrison in Kalamata.  That garrison fell on March 23, and other parts of Greece joined the fight on March 25, now celebrated as Independence Day.  In the photo below, the view is down the main street of Areopoli, to the bell tower of the church of the Archangels.


The bell tower:


Looking back from beside the church to a peak called Arkoutholatsa (815 meters), which guards the city on the east:


That night the full moon rose over that same peak:


The next morning we drove north to visit the villages of Stoupa and Kardamyli, and buy some olive oil, sea salt, mountain tea, and other essentials that are just better in the Mani.  We stopped along the road to grab a couple of snaps of the wildflowers:



The following morning, we drove south from Areopoli, heading down the eastern side of the peninsula.  Villages in the Mani tend to be sited either deep in valleys or up on ridges or hills.  I suspect the choice had to do with the perception of relative safety at the time the village was founded.   I believe this one is called Olimbies.


This one is Spira, with the Gulf of Laconia beyond.


Those 2 photos were taken from the village of Dimaristika which was once the center for Sue’s family.  This is the family’s war tower in Dimaristika:


Looking back on Dimaristika from Lagia:


We spent some time walking around Lagia, a pretty village where Sue’s great uncle went to school.  This is a nice example of a war tower, probably an early restoration:


The archetypal Mani house, looks to be another older restoration:


There was a large house next to the central church, which we took to be the rectory.  The next 3 photos were taken around that house.




Looking back on Lagia:


This is Porto Kayio, taken from the Venetian for “Bay of Quails”.  In the before times, quail were present in great numbers and they were netted and packed in salt for export.  It was here that we crossed the Mani peninsula to the western side and turned north for Areopoli.


This is a church called Episkopi (12th century),  with the Tigani peninsula jutting into the Gulf of Messinia in the background.  We used a nearly identical photo for our Christmas card a few years back.


A closer look at Tigani.  A Venetian or Frankish fortress was built on the raised portion at the end, guarded by 100 ft cliffs.  Foundations are all that’s left.


While we were driving around looking for the road to Tigani, I grabbed this photo of Susan between two tower houses.


A bit further up the coast, we stopped at the church of St. Barbara (1150 AD), near Erimos.  We’ve also used a photo – different angle – of this church for our Christmas card.


This is an obviously ruined, presumably older church, in front of St. Barbara’s.  You can just make out some fresoes in the vault of the apse.  This is not a unique case in the Mani.


Arriving back at the B&B, we took a walk in the fading daylight and I grabbed this snap of Omales, the  little settlement about a half-mile outside of Areopoli where we stayed.


A lane in the Mani:


Peeking into an olive groove in the gloaming:


The light’s about gone but the tree’s still in bud, and the wildflowers run riot:


We call this type of cactus a Mani Fig because the Maniots peel and eat the prickly fruit they bear.  This photo doesn’t give an adequate idea of the scale of these plants but standing along side them, they tower over me.


From the patio of our room I grabbed this shot of the ruined house beyond.  The houses in Omales are slowly being restored.


As I was taking that last photo this little guy flew out of the house and perched on that ruined wall attached to the center of the house.  It’s known as a Little Owl but we call it a Mani Owl because it’s the only place we’ve seen it.  And we’ve seen or heard it each time we’ve stayed at this B&B.  They’re only 9 – 11 inches tall and are indigenous to southern Europe and Asia.  It appears on all Euro coins minted in Greece.




With sunrise happening at unreasonable hours of the day, we’re really into moonrise. And we pay particular attention to the arrival of the first full moon of our time in Greece, and to the last. It feels almost like a greeting when we arrive, and nearly a leave-taking at the end of our stay.

Sunday at sunset we took a couple of lawn chairs, a bottle of good wine, and a couple of snacks down to the beach at sunset to greet the full moon. It was a still, cloudless day and the mountains went rose and then gray before the moon slid into view behind them. The moon had a harvest-theme thing going on and the smear of orange light reflecting across the water looked like a flame shooting from the sky.

We sat and watched it all until the moon went pale and the sky went dark, and then moved up to our balcony to finish the wine. This week has to do with taking stock, cleaning, storing, closing, covering, and planning for next year. When we finish, we’ll be on a plane.

This year, we were fortunate to have our coming and going marked by a couple of rare dolphin sightings. Until this April, we hadn’t seen a dolphin since the first few days of our first season here. That day, one of the builders drove up in the morning, said hello, and pointed out to sea, where we were dumbfounded to see a line of dolphins making their way across Sikia’s bay.

This year, within a week of arriving, we were sitting out on the balcony drinking a pot of morning tea when we saw a lone dolphin stitching a line east down the Gulf. Peering through binoculars, we watched it out of sight in the distance and judged it a good omen. Last Saturday at sunset, we were headed back to Sikia in the car and Susan spotted a line of dolphins, each jumping in the leader’s puddles, just as we crossed from Melissi into Sikia. We pulled to the curb and watched the show long enough for a swimmer to come near shore and yell to us to see if we needed anything. No thanks, we said, we’re just watching the dolphins.

Sunset all over again

Sunset all over again

That fuzzy sunset photo a couple of posts ago bugged me enough to (download and then) read the camera manual. Turns out, the problem was I had the “Servo AF” box checked. Go figure.

Anyhow, I was on my way home from Melissi again last night when Hλιος (Helios, the sun god of ancient Greek mythology and the modern Greek word for sun) was standing on the horizon posing for his photo before retiring for the night. I went down on the beach at the Akrotiri taverna and grabbed these snaps of the Sikya cape.

So this is how sunrise looks…

So this is how sunrise looks...

Woke up early this AM and went to the beach to grab a few snaps. The clouds from last evening stuck around overnight so the view was pretty amazing.

I didn’t change the colors in post-processing.  The variance is a result of locking the exposure to different areas within the frame.

All-in-all, a pretty rewarding trip to the beach.  Maybe I’ll get up indecently early again someday…