A rock, a church and dolphins

September 3, 2011

After the relative isolation of the Southern Peloponnese, arriving in Monemvasia was a bit like a return to civilisation. Having visited the first available ATM since leaving Kalamata more than a week earlier, we were now able to restock on food, water and fuel.  However, it was not the mundane practicalities of life that kept us in Monemvasia an extra day longer than we had planned, but the sheer delight of the place.

The rock of Monemvasia, with the fortified lower town clearly visible and the wall of the upper town above it.

Monemvasia has been likened to Gibraltar in that a vast rock stands just offshore, linked to the mainland by a short causeway.  Inevitably it has been fortified for centuries, by the Greeks, the Venetians and the Turks and it has been a significant trading post both with the east and Asia Minor and with the west.  At the base of the rock is a walled town – the Lower Town, accessible only on foot through a vaulted gateway.  Higher up runs another wall protecting the Upper Town and on the very summit stands the ancient citadel.  Our first evening, we contented ourselves with a stroll through the town on the mainland, before stopping for a drink at a little bar facing the causeway and the rock. 

Why can't we take this attitude to places in UK - you want to look round, feel free but it's your problem if you fall over or something falls on you!

The following day Duncan once more needed to address problems with the engine.  Intermittently, the sea water cooling system has refused to play and regular readers to our blog will know that he has already tried to resolve the matter more than once.  However, this time he resolved to remove the exhaust injector elbow, which until now he’d been reluctant to do.  The problem then became obvious as it was found to be almost completely blocked with limescale and it is something of a miracle that it has been working at all!  The job was not nearly as bad as he feared it would be and hopefully, we will have no further difficulties in that respect at least.  While he was working on the engine I got to work with our baby Singer sewing machine and made a number of bags from ripstop nylon for storing ropes as we have found them to be incredibly useful to avoid long shore lines etc from knotting themselves as they are paid out.   We then did a shop so it was fairly late before we set off for the rock.  We cycled round through the town and across the causeway as far as the gate to the lower town and then continued on foot.  It was immediately obvious that the Lower Town was very charming and also cool, trendy and probably expensive.  It was a maze of winding streets, shops and restaurants and full of beautiful people.  However, we refused to be distracted from our main purpose of climbing to the citadel. 

The entrance tunnel into the upper town

Even at 7:30pm we were fairly hot by the time we had climbed the steps up the path to the Upper Town.  Through another huge, covered gateway we were confronted by the church of Hagia Sofia, modelled on the building of the same name in Istanbul and this too has been both a church and a mosque at various times.  It is reputed to be the best of all the 26 churches on the rock and supposedly wonderful inside with some fabulous frescoes but we cannot comment on that as the doors were firmly locked and even had they not been, we were not appropriately dressed to go inside since we were both in shorts and t-shirts.  Besides this, we needed to press on to the citadel before dark.  The Upper Town was the administrative centre and consisted largely of public buildings and a complex of water cisterns but it is all ruins now apart from the church of Hagia Sofia, but the paths are there to follow through the undergrowth and rocks up to the citadel itself.

The church of Hagia Sofia

I was becoming increasingly anxious as the light was fading fast and the going was pretty rough.  Not only did we not have the torch that I usually take with me everywhere, but I – in a moment of extreme blondeness – had come shod only in a pair of flipflops!  I know, I know – I should have learned my lesson after a similar act of stupidity when we visited Rome.  In my defence, I had no idea that it was going to be so rugged and I spend about 95% of the summer wearing just flipflops so it hadn’t occurred to me that they might not be appropriate on this occasion. 

J at the Citadel...

Well, we made it to the top which stands about 100 metres above sea level and stood to admire the spectacular views of the coastline north and south with the mountains behind.  We didn’t linger for long ‘though as the sun had already dropped behind the ridgeline but set off at a brisk pace back the way we had come, managing to get back to the gateway to the Upper Town before we lost the last of the daylight.  We managed to make it back safely with no twisted ankles although Duncan did slip and jar his back slightly.  The path and steps down from the Upper Town are paved with rocks which have been polished smooth by centuries of use so they are now really quite slippery.  I was being very cautious, (in my silly flip flops,) whereas D was all confidence in a sensible pair of trainers.  Ah well.   We’d originally planned to stop for a drink in the Lower Town but by the time we got down we were tired and hungry, having had a late breakfast but nothing since and it was now getting on for 9pm so we returned to be bikes and supper on board.  It was at this point that I suggested staying another day so that we could explore the Lower Town in daylight and take photos and I am so glad that we did. 

... and D was there too. "Rampage" lies in the harbour below.


The lower town by night

One of the things that particularly struck us the next morning as we pottered about the narrow winding streets was that everywhere is not only sensitively restored but it’s also well maintained and tidy – unusual for this part of the world – ‘though there is still the occasional ruin yet to be fully excavated, amid the houses, hotels, shops and restaurants.  We stopped for a glass of fresh orange juice in a vine-shaded little courtyard where a French couple were sitting playing board games.  The atmosphere by day was wonderfully relaxed and peaceful.  After visiting the museum we treated ourselves to lunch at terraced restaurant overlooking the sea and had a simple but delicious meal of crisply fried little fish, Greek salad and tzatziki – fabulous!  If you are ever in this part of the world do not miss an opportunity to visit Monemvasia – it’s beautiful and I loved it.

A lizard in some of the unrestored ruins in the lower town. It's about 4 inches long overall.


D and an ancient canon in the lower town square.

Our next stop, in its way, was equally stunning.  On Thursday we made our way up the coast to Kiparissi where a large bay is encircled by high mountains – very green everywhere with crystal clear water.  We had a choice of three possible moorings and elected to go to Chapel Cove, which as the name implies, has nothing more than a small quay and a tiny white chapel.  Once again we had some trouble getting our anchor to set but eventually solved the problem by putting out the Fortress kedge anchor as well.  This dug in without a problem so after preparing a curry to eat later we set off to walk round the bay to the village of Kiparissi .  This time, dear readers, I wore sensible shoes and we each took a torch which proved essential on the way back.  The path winds it’s way through trees around a couple of small headlands and drops down into the village which is small and very pretty.  Once again we sat and lingered over a drink on the waterfront as we watched the sun go down and a group of small boys playing pirates on a catamaran tied to the quay in front of us.  By the time we set off to return to “Rampage” it was completely dark and though it was a starry night the moon was but a sliver.  Without our torches we could not have seen the path at all and would probably have had to find accommodation in the village for the night.

Chapel Cove moorings - just 3 boats in there, a lovely peaceful little place.

We continued north yesterday, leaving Kiparissi at 9am and motoring for several hours before finally picking up a southerly to blow us towards Navplion on just the foresail.  Suddenly we spotted dolphins.  This is only the second time all summer but this time they stay playing in the bow wave for maybe 15 or 20 minutes and Duncan was able to get some fantastic video footage.  We can’t publish it on the blog because that involves paying and we’re far too cheap, however I hope the pics will go some way towards giving and impression of how wonderful it was.  It was a largish pod and they were exuberant – at times leaping right up out of the sea.  It was our 33rd wedding anniversary yesterday and we couldn’t have asked for a better gift. 



And more dolphins


And a few more. Photos, just don't do them justice, as they weave back and forth amongst one another round the bow of the boat. Full of life and the joy of being alive.


And they really do 'walk' out of the water on their tails, just for the delight of doing, or so it seems to us.


Now we are tied up on the quay at Navplion and plan to stay several days,  partly because there is quite a bit to do here, both admin-wise (shopping, laundry etc.) and touristy stuff, but also because there are strong northerlies forecast over the next couple of days so we’ll sit them out before moving on.



  1. I am fascinated to know how you select where next to go each time. Do you have a very good guide book or something? How do you know where you can get diesel and water?

    Also, when you set off somewhere, how do you know in advance if you can anchor, pick up a ball, tie to a wall or to a pontoon. Do you just call the Harbour Master in english on Ch16, or is it an email in greek several days in advance?

    Sorry to be boring about your lovely blog, that I thoroughly enjoy thank-you, but the practicalities have always puzzled me.



    • Delighted that you enjoy our blog!

      With regard to chosing a destination, we tend to choose an end point for the season and then meander our way towards it, taking account of any visitors who may be trying to hook up with us en route. We try to chose places that are a reasonable day’s sail apart although we have made overnight passages when required (eg from Menorca to Sardinia last summer.) After that, selection comes down to places that sound attractive in the pilot book (see below) or have been suggested by fellow cruisers or because they offer suitable shelter/water/fuel etc as required. At the moment we are making our way towards Athens where two lots of visitors are flying in later this month and where we hope to meet up with a Greek friend from years ago.

      As for details of the various harbours and bays, there a number of pilot books of this area which provide all the essential information and masses more besides. In this part of the world the Rod Heikell pilot book “Greek Waters” is the generally accepted “bible.” There is little point in trying to book ahead, (except to book a winter berth in a marina,) as most places operate on a first come, first served basis. There have been occasions when we have hoped to get onto the town quay, only to discover on arrival that it is full of local boats and we have to drop the hook instead. Sometimes the pilot book suggests that you call on a particular channel in order to be allocated a place but quite often no-one responds when you do!

      We don’t make very hard and fast plans as things are apt to change because of the weather or because we decide to do something else. It’s a very relaxed lifestyle – we recommend it.

  2. Fantastic!!

    Belated Happy Anniversary!!

    You both look so well. I will come and see you in the spring I promise!!

  3. Yet another lovely read added to by such fab pics. You must have beside yourselves when the Dolphins came calling, bliss.

    As I have so much time on my hands and my brain is getting into gear I am now going to spend some time seeing your route on gooogle earth.
    I have checked with a web site and as long as i get permission to stay with family whilst getting better I would be able to come and stay whilst on sick pay, not that i am in any shape to do so at the mo.
    Next tuesday is seeing the consultant day and only then will I have any idea whats going to happen, could be a spring visit. I am not sure if i will ever be able to go back to work with the council, not sure that bending down or knealing is going to happen!!
    Have got card for mum and dad, and wish you both Happy Anniversary for last week,WELL DONE.

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