Helmet Island, Gythion

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October 1st 2014
Published: June 26th 2017
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Volos to Gythion

Total miles travelled; 3,048 nautical miles

Finally we have blue skies, blue water with nothing short of riplets as we dropped anchor off the shore of Gythion.

Gythion or Gythio is a harbour settlement, located in the southern Peloponnese in the Gulf of Lakonikis. The myth says that it was founded by Hercules, but historians believe that the town was first inhabited by the Phoenicians. It is the gateway to Sparta that lies a short distance over the mountains that surround this idyllic town. After the Phoenicians, the town was conquered by Sparta and became its port until a terrible earthquake destroyed the area. The town survived and the Roman's took over the reins. The town was also part of the Byzantine Empire until the 19th century when it became an important strategic location for the Greek Revolutionary Fleet.

As we have anchored off shore, this means that Gythion is a tender port. By this I don't mean that it is emotionally fragile!! The passengers are carried across to the mainland using one of the life boats as a ferry. This is Roisin's favourite mode of transport (OK, this may be a misprint!!) Tickets are obtained (free of charge) from the reception. This consists of a letter. When the letter is called, you make your way to the tender via the directional signs. You don't need to take the exact tender corresponding to your 'letter'. As long as you don't jump the queue, you can take any tender thereafter. They are constantly running between the ship to shore and return.

We took our position inside the lifeboat. Ideally, in Roisin's mind, once WE are aboard, the pilot can go. A bit like a personal taxi service! Unfortunately in reality, the tender will not leave until it is relatively full. One of these fully equipped, completely covered lifeboats can hold up to 120 personnel; passengers and crew. We were waiting at least 15 minutes, patiently, willing the crewman to harness the safety chain across the tender entrance and throttle forward so we'd be on our way. During this time the tender started rocking with the swell of the water. Roisin was seconds from getting up and getting off. No time to lose. Chain secured and we're off. The 7 minute crossing was uneventful and as smooth and calm as could be expected.

On approaching the harbour, there is normally several statues quayside to welcome you ashore. One is of a jaunty-tailed mermaid and the other of a sailor in baggy trousers shading his eyes and gazing out to sea. Due to some building work, these statues were obscured by construction materials.

On touching land we walked the 100 or so metres to the main square, turned left and followed a road up past the main church. My first impression of Gythion as we strolled through, what I believe to be the main street is the higgledy-pigglediness of the pastel-tinted houses, which jumble their way up the foothills of Mount Koumaros, and the crooked staircases that snake their way between them.

The street we walked followed a parallel path to the coast road but gradually rose at an incline so we soon found ourselves standing at the top of a steep staircase looking down toward the causeway that leads to the tiny islet of Cranae. We carefully took the 87 deep and in some places uneven steps, one at a time and after crossing the coast road, we walked the short manmade causeway on to the islet.

The islet of Cranae, which in Greek means helmet is the trademark of Gythio. Around every corner and behind every building in Greece there seems to lurk a story. This is no different. The tale behind this strange name of Cranae is attributed to Homer (of the Odyssey and Iliad fame not of the Simpsons!!) who recorded that while on their way to Troy, Helen and Paris spent one night there. When they left the next morning, Paris forgot his helmet. He left it behind on the island and thus came the name of the islet! The same thing must have happened to Captain Cook when he forgot his packed lunch…and so the Sandwich Islands were named!!!

Cranae acts as a natural buffer against the winds and the waters of the open sea, thus used to protect Gythio from enemies and pirates. It didn't take long to wander through the well trodden paths of the island past the red roofed chapel and on to the Tzanetakis Tower which presently houses the Ethnological Museum of Mani (Mani is the district in which Gythion is situated). At the extreme end of the islet is the lighthouse of Gythio which is constructed entirely of white marble. It was built in 1873 and stands 22 meters tall. From this vantage point there are stunning views of the sea, or there would be if a bloody great big cruise ship wasn't in the way!!

As we walked back toward the harbour Roisin and I tried to rationalise why this quintessential Greek island of the 1970's would be an attraction to come for your holidays when there are so many Greek Islands to choose from. The wrought-iron balconies brightly painted in nautical shades of deep blue and green, in the gaily checked tablecloths of the restaurants that line the waterfront certainly had a Shirley Valentine feel about the place. The vividly painted little fishing boats, each marked on the prow with an eye to avert evil bobbing about on the sparkling, inky-blue waters of the marina just added to the joie de vivre! It just generally seems to be a nicely situated place with pleasant surroundings. Somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle of the real world.

Walking back to the quay to pick up the tender, we noticed a few restaurants that had octopus's tentacles hanging from a rack drying out in the sun. This is a mystery I never got to the bottom of. Would these be used in some complicated religious ritual or do they just taste nice!! Come to think of it, what happened to the rest of the octopus? Do they just throw it back I to the sea and from then on the creatures is just known as a pus!!

We arrived back on the ship at about 3pm. The ship wasn't due to set sail until 7:30. At around 5pm a few tannoy announcements were made. The first was in Russian and gave mention to 2 Russian names. The second was in Italian and again, I heard a couple of names being asked to contact reception. It is not uncommon for guests to arrive back at the last moment. It is well documented that the ship requests you board no later than ½ hour before the vessel is due to set sail. The problem with a tender port is that you may get back to the quayside before the ship has left but if you miss the last tender back you're in trouble. In this case we had 9 ½ hours in Gythion. I'd love to know what was so interesting that it took that long to visit. You could probably walk to Sparta and back in that time!! As it turns out, the ship raised the anchor slightly ahead of schedule so I expect everyone was present and accounted for.

It looks like the Animation Team have finally had their backsides kicked. Nicholas Liorce, the Cruise Director came on in Venice after the three day mini cruise. His hair may be a mess, it needs a cut as it looks unkempt and very greasy. He may seem dishevelled with his creased jacket and pants and he may even sound slightly like Pee Wee Herman on helium but he's obviously good at his job. For a few days now, I notice that when they're not hosting a themed event, the animation team have been only wearing their white tops and light khaki shorts/trouser during the day. They have also started to greet you when you enter the theatre advertising their entertainment programme for that evening (usually starts at 22:30.) This is normal on MSC but has been blatantly overlooked. Beryl told us that they have also had a refresher in customer relations (I don't know where she gets her information from!) but there is definitely a distinct improvement in their attitude and their approach.

One of the animation team who has always found time to stop us for a chat is a young lady from the Netherlands called Daisy. On this particular evening, I somehow, and don't ask me why, had an Alan Partridge moment!!

Daisy?' I started.Now that's an unusual name for a Dutch Girl…. It is a type flower in English…Mind you, it's not in the same class as a Rose….but they're useful for making chains out of…..or holding under your chin to see if you like butter…on no, wait…that's a buttercup!!' Little did I know, as I was digging the hole bigger, Daisy was already plotting her revenge!!!

Additional photos below
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2nd October 2014

Lovely colour of the sea!!
2nd October 2014

that's either a teensy church or a Monstrous MSC Orchestra!

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