Sunday, 10 August 2014


Mainland anchorage called O. Vatha, opposite Levkas 

August is crazy time. Special conditions apply. Everyone knows this. Sanity demands that you park your boat in a marina, damn the cost, and wait out these four weeks somewhere cool and grey.  I've dreamed of Ireland in August, or Wales perhaps. Brittany wouldn't be bad either.

Caught napping

This is our third August in the Med, and perhaps our last. We know now that lots of European cruisers don't stay with their boats in August. We've met them at Gouvia marina, handing over a month's berthing fees, charged at high season rates. No regrets. They'll be back to sail again in September when the heat is less gruelling and the crowds are starting to thin.

Dakos salad - rusk, tomato, feta

A long cool espresso - called freddo 

Then there's frozen yoghurt...

On Enki, we take August a day at a time. We travel slowly and at anchor, when the temperature climbs, we pull out the Big Awning. The awning (designed by Alex) supplements the bimini and  gives us shade over the entire cockpit and the aft deck. How lovely to sit in the bean bag, your whole body in shade, a light wind cooling your skin and to read, say, Henry Miller or Proust or Martin Cruz Smith (now, you guess who belongs to which book). Every so often you feel the need to slip into the water. It's clear and cool, with a warm layer on the top by evening. By then it's time for beer and Scrabble.

The wondrous awning

Brew of choice

Camera of choice

There was one more ruin we wanted to see before we left Greece, even though it's August. About seven nautical miles north of Levkas is Preveza, with its busy charter airport and boatyards called Cleopatra and Aktion. It sits at the entrance to the gulf the Romans called Actium, and a short distance to the north of the town are the ruins of Nikopolis. Nikopolis was the city built by the young Roman general Octavian (who is better known as Augustus) after he trounced the much larger fleet of Mark Anthony and his girlfriend Cleopatra  in 31 BC in the gulf of Actium.

The winner writes history

We came down from Corfu on a day which promised breeze and only sporadically delivered, and by 8.30 pm, just as the moon was coming up, were anchored in the shallow bay around from the Preveza town quay. After dinner I crouched on the companionway steps while Alex and Claudia did the dishes  and read out loud to them from Eric Newby's book On the Shores of the Mediterranean. Newby wrote a very nice chapter about visiting marshy, mosquito-ridden Preveza in which he imagined the battle of Actium - which changed the course of the Roman empire.  Neither Preveza nor Mark Antony's troubles had much appeal to his wife Wanda, it seems.

Claudia walks the wall of Nikopolis
I don't think Claudia quite saw the need to go to Nikopolis either, but like Wanda, she is game. We were off the boat early, and on site by 10 am. The heat at that hour was manageable. We would have perhaps been wise to have kept the taxi driver loitering, spent half an hour admiring the exquisite Byzantine mosaic floors which are all that remain of early Christian churches built by cashed-up bishops during the Nikopolis's second period of prosperity and then got our bodies back to the boat. But instead we believed the taxi driver's casual advice that there were "lots of taxis and buses" passing by on that road, and chose to walk on around the walls to the small theatre (Odeon) and after that, follow a dirt road past the necropolis, duck through a corn field and head towards the large theatre. From there, we said, we'd take a taxi or bus to the museum, about 3 km back towards Preveza.

Glorious frescoes from 6th century AD approx

Nikopolis Odeon - small theatre - close to restored

Men at work on the Odeon (and below)

There were no taxis or buses.

Country dwellers

Short cut from the necropolis to the main road

We waited in a shady roadside cafe until the situation became obvious. Then we walked to the museum.

Card games at the crossroads cafe

Now, a museum is somewhere I'll always give the benefit of the doubt. But as we were walking - and there was no footpath, just a very narrow verge and a white line between us and the on-coming traffic  - I wondered what kind of archeological museum would be so far from the site. There's actually not a lot of Octavian's Nikopolis left to see, and I had a sinking feeling that the same might be the case at the museum, should it even be open.

Masterpiece of the Nikopolis museum
Greece does this to you though. It lets you down, and then boom, SURPRISE. There it was, a few hundred metres from the Lidl supermarket, on a stretch of double-carriage road you might kindly call light industrial - a new air-conditioned Euromoney museum with a carpark and foyer built to cater for coach loads of Nikopolis tourists.

They weren't there. Just us, and a bit later, an Indian family wandered in. Everyone else, I guess, was in the water.

Nikopolis was a big and pretty important trading centre but Visigoths and vandals and wars have reduced most of it to rubble. The museum curators have done a lot with very little. Sometimes a little is enough. One great marble bas relief, an elaborately carved sarcophagus (Assos, the perfect post-card harbour we saw on Cephalonia, was a centre of excellent coffin-making), a pile of silver coins, a few amphora, some glass phials and gold leaf, a bust with her nose bashed in, stone tablets (stelae) with proclamations chiseled letter by letter. The ancient roll call is by now very familiar to us. But still we find ourselves gazing intently into each cabinet, comparing and admiring and adding from each museum more "treasure" to our mental collection of ancient beauties.

We're now looking ahead at weather coming across the Ionian, wanting a bit of wind, preferably from the north, to sail to the east coast of Sicily. We take with us from Greece a new and successfully installed 4kg Candy washing machine.

Now that was a hot job.

You had to be there

It can be done! 


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