From Istanbul to Patras
by Cosmin Jitariuc

Istanbul was a touchstone for the Circumeuropa crew. The musician Petre Ionuțescu’s concert, broadcast live from the deck of the boat while “Gaia” was crossing the Bosphorus, was a moment of concentration, tension, but also magic. From here, the water journey continued to Elefsina, in Greece, also European capital of culture 2023, just like Timișoara.

Until Elefsina “Gaia” was to cross the Sea of ​​Marmara and the Dardanelles Strait, and then pass into Greek waters.

“We were all proud of the Bosphorus event, but then we needed to focus on the other aspects of our expedition, I mean navigation, analyzing the waters and of course discovering the places we passed through.” Cristian Ilea, Circumeuropa coordinator

The island of Lesbos was where the crew spent several days. Located off the coast of Turkey, it is the third largest island in Greece. Even though it has a fascinating history, Lesvos is not much affected by mass tourism. The city of Mytilini is the capital of the island and is where most of the population is concentrated.

“Probably the most fascinating place for me on Lesbos is near the town of Sigri. It is about the “petrified forest” which is actually an open-air museum containing several hundred petrified tree trunks. It’s fascinating!” Oana Gavriliuc, researcher

The next objective that the Circumeuropa team wanted to reach was the island of Kyra Panagia, which is part of the Northern Sporades Archipelago. Island that is part of a nature reserve and is almost deserted.

Since Byzantine times, goat breeding is well known on the island of Kyra Panagia. And today the place is populated by herds of almost feral goats and there are still farmers and animal breeders living on this island, even if in very small numbers.

In the eastern part of the island there is a monastery built around 1100 and recently restored. The place of worship still retains the shape of a fortress from the times when pirates raided the area. You can still admire the old oil presses and the grain mill, now objects of exhibition. The monastery is currently inhabited by two monks.

“We met only one, who had the patience to show us the place and tell us about the secrets of the monastery. I’m glad I got there,” Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist. “We would have stayed on this island, but we had to think about our next destination, the weather conditions and how long it would take us to get there. So we decided to go further”, Valentin Bogdan, geologist, speleologist and skipper.

Further on for Circumeuropa meant Elefsina, European Capital of Culture 2023 city, just like Timișoara. Elefsina is a small town of 25,000 inhabitants located 20 km west of Athens and is far from what tourists visiting Greece would expect to find. It is a former industrial city full of ruins of old factories where there are many gray buildings. It is a different Greece.

Elefsina managed to obtain the title of cultural capital precisely by capitalizing on the industrial heritage. He brought culture to places where nothing was happening.

“We managed to enter, not without some difficulties, a small fishing port in Elefsina. The view was less picturesque than the ones we are used to. Not far from us was a shipwreck cemetery and a bit further the military port”. Valentin Bogdan, geologist, speologist and skipper

As part of the Circumeuropa project, Banat dances arrived in Elefsina. The “Timișul” Ensemble of the House of Culture of the Municipality of Timișoara performed in the Canteen Square in the Greek town. They were joined by the spectators who joined in the chorus as well as a group of Romanians from the diaspora dressed in folk costumes.

The Circumeuropa team brought with them the Spotlight Heritage of Timisoara application on VR equipment with free access to the public. The project took those interested in a virtual space of the city on the Bega and was created by a team of the Polytechnic University of Timișoara and the Banat History Museum.

“We were extremely happy that we managed to unite on water these two European cultural capitals from 2023, Timișoara, Romania and Elefsina, Greece”. Cristian Ilea, the initiator of Circumeuropa.

The last point of the first part of the SEA 2023 expedition would take the crew to Patras, the capital of the western Greek region. Here was a new meeting with the Timișul Ensemble and a new show. The team on Gaia was joined by a guest: Roxana Morun, journalist and moderator of the two events of the House of Culture of the Municipality of Timișoara, the one in Elefsina and the one in Patras.

“I went aboard the sailboat with some excitement. I wasn’t really sure what life was like on a boat like this and if I would manage. And seasickness was unknown to me.” Roxana Morun, journalist.

But in order to reach Patras, Gaia had to cross one of the most spectacular artificial straits, the Corinth channel.

“I researched what this crossing means. The channel is very narrow and requires a lot of concentration for the person at the helm. Several rules imposed by the authorities must also be respected for navigation on the canal”, Valentin Bogdan, geologist, speleologist and skipper.

The Corinth Canal is an artificial channel that connects two seas, namely the Gulf of Corinth in the Ionian Sea and the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. The canal is 6.3 km long, about 21 meters wide and was built between 1881 and 1883. “The crossing is very spectacular. The channel is very narrow and rock walls line both sides. You sometimes feel like your boat won’t make it.” Cosmin Jitariuc, journalist.

Rocked by the waves of the Aegean Sea, Gaia arrived at nightfall in Patras. The next day, July 15, the last cultural event of the expedition was to take place. The emotions of the journey so far but also the fatigue had their say among the crew.

The Timişul Ensemble started the event in Patras with a folk dance parade on the streets and beaches of the city. Then the traditional Banat song and dance specific to the area delighted the spectators and highlighted the cultural wealth of Timișoara and the Banat region.

“Parting with the crew on Gaia was clearly emotional. I understood that life on a sailboat is not necessarily easy or comfortable, but certainly fascinating”, Roxana Morun, journalist.

From Patras, Gaia set sail for the Ionian islands in Lefkada, the place where it was to be decided how and when the Circumeuropa expedition would continue.

“It was an extraordinary two months. I went through a lot of trials and new experiences. No day was the same as the other. We were the first who, after almost 70 years, crossed the water border between Romania and Serbia and also the first Romanians who crossed the locks from the neighboring country. I discovered the wild Bega, crossed the Danube, the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea. I broadcast live, in Timișoara, while crossing the Bosphorus, a trumpet concert right from the deck of the sailing ship Gaia. I saw deserted islands and met extraordinary people. The Circumeuropa project is moving forward!” Cristian Ilea, the initiator of Circumeuropa.

An important stage has ended for Circumeuropa, marked by firsts in the navigation area, unique artistic moments and stories to be told. But the adventure will continue in 2024!