Category Archives: Places visited

The posts cover all the Places we have visited in our travels.

Brè and Gandria.

On Friday the weather was the complete opposite to Thursday, gloriously bright and warm.  Marco and Soraia took us for a drive around the Lugano area, starting with a trip part way up Mount Brè for some stunning views over Lugano and Lake Lugano and then down to lakeside Gandria.

Lake Lugano looking south.
Lake Lugano looking east

From Brè we drove down to the delightful lakeside village of Gandria on the north western shore of Lake Lugano.

Lake Lugano from Gandria’s ferry jetty

This quaint little place clings to the steep lake shore just inside the Swiss / Italian border.  The village was originally higher up the mountain side but apparently was moved to the lake shore in about the 14th century.  Always rather isolated the area was known for its olives.  In my ignorance I had never associated Alpine lakes with such a Mediterranean crop!    A harsh winter in 1709 killed off the trees but they have recently been replanted and the foot path between Lugano and Gandria is known as the Olive Path.

The lake from the Olive Path

Gandria also produced silk and was a centre for smuggling due to high Swiss customs dues.   Apparently there is a Customs Museum in Cantine  di Gandria on the lake shore opposite Gandria which, according to Wikipedia, exhibits a submarine which was used to smuggle salami.  Regrettably we never got to see the Salami Smuggling Submarine!

15th century Church of St Vigilio. (Baroque facade from the 19th century)
St Vigilio was stoned to death by pagan shepherds.

Gandria was a lovely suprise. Picture postcard quaint and the sort of place to enjoy lunch overlooking the lake, but we were off to spend the afternoon in Bellinzona.


We left Milan at lunch time on Thursday in the pouring rain, headed for Lugano, a 90 minute bus journey away.  Unfortunately, with the exception of Friday, the weather remained rather wet and cold for the whole of our visit.

Our first view of Lugano
Our first view of Lugano

We were to stay with our friends Marco and Soraia, who we last saw in Brasil in 2016. They met us at the bus stop to drive us to their apartment and then, despite the rain which persisted all evening, we took a stroll around Luguano town centre.  It has evolved over the years into an expensive shopping venue at the expense of its previous, more traditional appearance, but even in the evening rain it was pleasant to wander around.

Lugano's Town Hall
Lugano’s Town Hall

Lugano originated as a market town some time before the 10th century and was a part of Milanese Lombardy, until coming under French control in 1500.

Lugano lake front

It was a Swiss domain between 1513 to 1798 when Napoleon arrived and created the Helvetic Republic which replaced the Swiss Confederation.   The city burst onto the international stage in 1956 when Lugano hosted the first Eurovision Song Contest!

In the following decades Lugano became a banking centre, based on Italian cash; this in turn attracted people with money to spend.  However, with the relaxing of Swiss banking secrecy the banking economy has reduced and a recent decision to ban wearing burkas has pursaded a significant number of visitors to shop else where.

Statue of William Tell on the lake side.

In the rain it is difficult to wax lyrical about Lugano but as I said it is a pleasant lakeside city.   As it transpired we spent little time here as, happily, Marco and Soraia had plans to show us a lot more of Ticino outside Lugano itself.


Our first stop in our short tour of Northern Italy was Milan, a two hour flight from Lamezia Terme. Valeria and her new friends from Roccella had a rather wet and rainy ‘Girl’s Weekend’ in Milan first and I flew up to join her on Monday, 12th March.  We spent 3 nights in an Air B&B apartment over looking the Piazza de XXIV Maggio on the south side of town. Luckily for us I brought the sun from Roccella and we had two days of glorious weather; in contrast to Valeria’s damp weekend.   In the rain Milan has little to commend it other than shopping and Prosecco!

Milan was founded in about 600BC by a Celtic tribe and was conquered by Rome in 222BC, therafter rising in importance to become the capital of the western Roman Empire.  During the Middle Ages Milan suffered centuries of destruction and rebuilding at the hands of the Goths, Visigoths, Ostragoths and Attila the Hun.  It was conquered by the Lombards and then in the 8th century fell to Charlemagne and the Franks.

1494 -1498. Da Vinci's Last Supper. The refectory of the Dominican convent of St Maria della Grazie housing this and the ..... was completely demolished during WWII, apart from the two walls with the paintings on. (This isn't a blurred photo, the painting looks pretty fuzzy for real!)
1494 -1498. Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The refectory of the Dominican convent of St Maria della Grazie housing this and Montorfano’s Crucifiction was completely demolished during WWII, apart from the two walls with the paintings on which miraculously survived. (This isn’t a blurred photo, the painting looks pretty fuzzy for real!)
This is sometimes referred to as a Fresco, but they had to be painted quickly on wet plaster. Leonardo preferred to take his time painting on dry plaster. Frescos last far longer than dry painting on plaster and the Last Supper has been heavily restored.
Giovanni Donato da Montorfano painted his fresco, the Crucifixion, in 1495 and it is on the wall opposite the Last Supper. In the bottom corners some later figures were painted by Leonardo, but on dry plaster. The paint hasn’t lasted as well.

By the end of the 12th century Milan had become a Duchy and the conquering and destruction seems to have abated under the three Ducal families, first the Torres, followed by the Visconti and lastly the Sforza.   Our tour guide told us that the last of the Torre Dukes in Milan was imprisoned by the new Visconti family in an open air cage in Como.  They fed him bread and water for the 18 months it took him to die of exposure and malnutrition.  George Martin didn’t need to look too hard for inspiration for Game of Thrones!

Santa Maria della Grazie church from the Refectory
The Nave of the chuch of Santa Maria della Grazie


Vaulted ceiling in the Nave of Santa Maria della Grazie

In 1500 the French, having found the Italian city states unable to defend themselves, seized the city and heralded a period until the 19th century when control of Milan alternated between the  Spanish, French and Austrians with monotonous regularity.  In the mid 19th century the Kingdom of Sardinia backed the Milanese  against the Austrians resulting in the Sardinians gaining control over what is now Italy.  In 1861 the Kingdom of Sardinia became the Kingdom of Italy.

Sforza Castle

Milan also has the dubious honour of being the birth place, in 1919, of Facism, but was also where it ended when Partisans strung Mussolini up after the war.  The city was also a target for heavy bombing by the Allies in WWII.   Apparently the Duomo was relatively unscathed because that was the bomber’s land mark.

La Scala
Statue of Leonardo da Vinci opposite La Scala
Facade of the Prada store in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Interior of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria from outside the Cathedral

So, after centuries of being destroyed, sacked, depopulated, rebuilt, reorganised and redeveloped there isn’t much of ‘old’ Milan left; other than the Sforza Castle and the Napoleonic Arch of Peace most of the remaining monumental buildings are religious.

Milan Cathedral. The golden statue is supposed to be higher than all othe buildings in the city to allow her to protect all those beneath her. There are now 5 taller buildings, each with their own copy of the Virgin!

We had two days to explore Milan and took a Walking Tour on Tuesday starting at the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie. housing Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and ending at the Duomo, or Milan Cathedral stopping at the Castle, La Scala Theatre and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on the way.   On Wednesday we walked around quite a few more of the sights and it is far easier just to show the photos.

Corso Magenta from the steps of San Maurízio Church
The interior of the pubic part of San Maurício Church. Behind this is the Cloistered Church.
The Cloistered part of San Maurício Church for the nuns.
The Cathedral is Milan’s answer to Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, although it is now complete and with less concrete. Building started in 1386, completed in 1965.

Cathedral Nave
The Altar
The Arch was built by Napoleon as the entrance to the city along the road from Paris. It was originally called the Arc de Triomphe. However; when he was defeated the Austrians took over and changed the sculptures to look more Austrian, changed the horses positions so their backsides faced Paris and rechristened the arch the Arch of Peace!
Statue of the Emperor Constantine outside the Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore
Bell Tower of San Maurício. Originally a tower in the Circus dating from the 3rd Century AD, and still standing.
The Circus was on the west side of the Roman town but has been completely absorbed into the later buildings apart from the tower.
Piazza di Mercantile.
The Curch of Santa Maria has what is called a ‘false apse’.  From the front there appears to be a space behind the altar..
This is a clever illusion and a change of perspective shows the back wall is flat, as can be seen when viewed from the side.


A piece of modern art outside the Cardorna Station. A monumental needle and thread celebrating Milan’s fashion industry.

I personally didn’t find Milan a particularly attractive city.  However; with its history that is understandable. The buildings now standing were apparently designed to be plain outside but we’re built around pretty hidden courtyards so as not to boast Milanese wealth to the various occupying powers.  There is also a vast amount of grafitti which adds to the sometimes drab, unloved appearance.

BUT, its architecture is massively impressive, and it is home to some stunning monumental architecture.  We spent an enjoyable time wandering around town and the real challenge here has been to cut down on the number of photographs I wanted to use!

February in Roccella

Rainy sunset over the Castle in Roccella
… meanwhile in Southend ….
… and, in Narnia …

February in Roccella has been slightly busier than January, slowly working through our ‘To Do’ list while keeping up with the social life, continuing our Italian classes and I did a bit of sewing.   Valeria also took a week back in the UK, timed to perfection with the arrival of the new Ice Age.

I have fixed the freezer – cool segway there – replacing the thermostat and have also serviced the engines.   The new Code Zero sail has arrived but I need to fit the torsion wire and the furling mechanism.  The jetty we are on is covered in sand and grit which will do the sail no good, but happily the Community Centre building  is just about big enough to take the sail which is over 20 metres long when laid out!

But my major achievement this month has been making a sun awning for the front of the boat.

Our new awning
From this

Originally a guy on a neighbouring boat, who does sail repairs, started the project off by sewing the panels together but had to return to the UK before he could finish it.

… to this


So I borrowed his sewing machine, learned to use it and prepared the biggest ‘Test Piece’ you can imagine. The completed awning is 2.8m long by 5.6m wide, and was obviously bigger before I started cutting and sewing, but the Community Centre served as a fantastic work area.   It wasn’t the most complex job, all straight edges with some little loops around the edges to tie it down, but it was an enjoyable couple of days and I even managed to not sew myself to the cloth!!    And best of all, it fits!

Aarrggh …..
Ah ha !!!!
Piece of cake !!

The rest of the month has been spent socialising at the Sunday BBQs and amongst ourselves on our various boats and occasional meals out – usually pizza after Italian classes.   We are now firm friends with another couple of catamaran owners on the quayside, so much so that Valeria, Sue and Suzy are all off to Milan for a Girls Weekend over the first weekend in March!

Immediately following on from that Valeria has been planning a 10 day trip for us travelling around northern Italy and visiting an old school friend in Switzerland, while I have been planning our route through the southern Agean islands for the summer.

And it is now only about 6 weeks before we set off again!

January in Roccella

Pre Christmas snow in Upminster
Pre Christmas snow in Upminster
Sunset over Thorpe Bay
Sundown over Thorpe Bay

After the best part of 3 months in the UK spending time with our friends and relations over Christmas and the New Year, we returned to Roccella on 15th January and resumed our live aboard life;  leaking toilet and a defective freezer thermostat welcoming us back home for a start!

Thorpe Bay sunset
The Byzantine – Norman Cathedral in Gerace

On arrival at Lamezia Terme airport we hired a car for the first week and made a couple of shopping runs to the local Lidl equivalent, called MD, and stocked up on the basic consumables and took an exploratory trip into the hills with a brief visit a town called Gerace.   That was a really pleasant surprise and when we hire a car later we will be returning for a longer visit.

View from Gerace Castle

The ‘Live Aboard’ community here is beginning to swell as folks return from their winter breaks, although some have been here the entire time.   Unfortunately the Australian flu has found its way here and almost everyone has been laid low with it.  We had ours before we left the UK and Valeria was running a Red Cross food station sending pots of soup and the odd meal to the afflicted, handed over on the end of a boat hook, just in case.   But with the flu receding the BBQs and social evenings on neighbouring boats have been picking up.

The weather is still rather cold in the evenings although the days are really quite pleasant when the wind isn’t howling.  On our third day back we were lashed by 60 knot (70 mph or 120 kph) winds over night which was not fun.   The previous storm actually collapsed one of the pontoons with two boats attached!  We all came through unscathed this time although a dingy was blown from the beach at the local sailing club just outside the harbour.

30 knot winds build a challenging sea in the harbour entrance

With almost 3 months here before we set off again it is time to make repairs, service machinery, buy equipment and stow away all the stuff we brought with us from the UK.   We are awaiting a new freezer thermostat, engine and winch spares and I am trying to source rope from the local hardware store which is the nearest thing to a Chandlery.   I am also working up a ‘shopping list’ of bits only available from a chandlery, there is a helpful one just down the road and across the ferry in Syracuse.   Also before leaving for Christmas we ‘commissioned’ an awning from one of the other guys in the marina but for various reasons he can’t finish it, so I will be playing with his sewing machine.    And just to keep ourselves mentally and physically active, we’re taking Italian lessons at the local school; I say local but it is a 40 minute walk each way.

There is also the passage planning for next year to consider, and we are also hoping to take a week or so to travel through Italy from north to south, perhaps starting with a visit to friends in Lugano, then stopping off in Como, Milan and Florence.  All places we wanted to visit in 2016 and 2017 but never managed to fit in.




Three weeks in Roccella Ionica

After a very straightforward crossing from Corfu we arrived in Roccella on Tuesday morning, 2 October and began to settle in.  We have booked our flight home for the 24th and so had three weeks to prepare Windependent for our departure.

The marina here is quite big, seems well protected from the weather and is really well organised, with fabulously friendly and helpful staff.  There is even a Community Centre for the live-aboards and free use of pedal cycles to get to town and back.

Me, Andy,Valeria,Steph and Dani
Dani, Valeria & Steph before
….. and after ….

There is a large and growing ‘live aboard’ community of folks who will either stay here the entire winter or, like us, return home for all or part of it; so there is a fair amount of socialising to do.   As soon as we’d arrived Valeria invited our immediate neighbours for drinks and we’ve been making lots of new friends.  There is a big weekly BBQ at the ‘community centre’ and we’ve had a couple of BBQs on and around our boats.

Sunday morning whiskey tasting
Cycle path to Roccella

Roccella town is about 2 km from here, hence the bikes. These aren’t always available but the walk does us good, 5 km to the supermarket and back for a start! . There are a number of hiking trails around town but the dominant feature is the castle, sometimes known as the Palazzo Carafa and the fortified tower or Pizzafalcone,  on the hills above it.   We took a walk up there on Saturday, it is only open between 4 and 8 pm at the weekends and covered around 10 km.

The castle is being heavily redeveloped with a large EU grant and it appears it will be a museum of some description.   It is a very impressive building dating from the fifteenth century when Roccella was the seat of a Marquis, although later, in its heyday, Roccella was a Principality!

Castle of Carafa and the Pizzofalcone watch tower
Castle entrance and church.
Pizzofalcone watchtower
Roccella beach

The weather is still very hot during the day, cooling at night and we’ve even had some very heavy rain.   Most evenings there are clouds along the coast which makes for some amazing sunsets; the sun disappears behind the castle hill but lights up the clouds from below with some spectacular results.

But now we are preparing to return home for a couple of months and are doing our final preparations for a couple of months away from home.  We have just one more day before flying on Tuesday.

Although we are really looking forward to seeing friends and family in the UK we’ve found a great bunch of people here in Roccella and so, even before we leave ,we’re looking forward to returning!

Port Mandraki and Corfu Town

With our watermaker miraculously working and my €50 salvage fee burning a hole in my pocket we were at a bit of a loose end for a few days, so we decided to go to Port Mandraki, the small yacht club marina directly below the ‘old fort’ in Corfu.

Port Mandraki

It was suprisingly un crowded and we were put on the outer harbour ‘wall’. I use inverted commas because as harbour walls go it is pretty insignificant. It is between 1 and 2 metres high and about 3 metres wide, made of rock with a haphazard concrete pathway along the top.  These rocks extend out underwater in the marina and so we had to go bows onto the wall.  Our draught at the bows is about 20 cm and so there is no chance of catching anything that way round.  But that also meant we couldn’t use our gangway without some major seamanship being undertaken, so we used the marina’s plank, a 4 metre wooden scaffold board about 30 cm wide.   A disincentive to enjoying the local wine with ones lunch!

Church of St George, against castle heights

Once tied up and we’d negotiated the gangplank a few times hooking up the electricity and water we set off into town to explore.   The marina is right inside the old fort.  This is of Venetian vintage and as an added layer of defence they also cut a channel across the head land on which the fort is built to form a moat; the marina is on the fort side of that feature.  Walking through the Venetian Fort we rather incongruously found ourselves in a what could easily have been mistaken for a street in the Woolwich Arsenal!   Information signs then informed us that Corfu had been a British Protectorate from 1815 to 1864.  Corfu has a long and involved history and has been conquered, occupied or administered by virtually everybody at one time or another.

Making our way out of the fort we headed into Corfu Town.   On first impressions we could easily have been in Italy, and, as towns go, it  was very pleasant to wander around.  We had lunch and even went to visit the Museum of Oriental Art.

Museum of Oriental Art

Old Town Hall

That took up Friday afternoon and Saturday.  On Sunday morning, checking the weather, we suddenly found that 4 of our 5 forecasts said we’d have two days of settled weather from Sunday to Tuesday, none of those 4 actually agreed on how settled, what the wind direction might be or whether it would rain but we decided to go for it.  Our passage to Roccella was 200 miles, or 40 hours, if we left on Sunday afternoon, we’d arrive on Tuesday morning.  If we didn’t go on Sunday we’d likely be hanging around Corfu for the next week!

So we moved berths to get closer the the fuel pump, went shopping, took on diesel and were all set to go by 4 pm on Sunday afternoon!


Gaios to Lakka by bus

On Tuesday we took the bus from Gaios for the half hour ride to the north end of Paxos to visit Lakka, another small town with a picturesque anchorage.   The countryside on the route was all olive groves with some huge old olive trees, and a surprising number of deserted , derelict buildings.   Lakka was a completely different story.  It is a small, quaint town full of shops and restaurants and set on a picturesque bay just begging to be photographed.

Sivota and the South Ionian Regatta

Returning to Sivota was a good choice as it turned out. Busy due to the Regatta but well sheltered from the winds which were good for the races but not for passage making north! We are grateful to Martino for squeezing us in. Turns out his sister’s boyfriend is …. you guessed it …. Brazilian!

Isabella On Watch ….

The bay was very, very busy with every available berth taken, and the anchorage full each evening. But with all these crews in town it wasn’t as rowdy as might have been expected and we quite enjoyed our stop over. There were plenty of restaurants and tavernas, shops for essential food and fishing tackle and of course Graeme, Jayne and Isabella.

As the week wore on the Regatta crowd slowly disappeared and normality returned although on Saturday we were entertained watching two departing yachts getting their anchors caught on submerged obstructions. One eventually freed himself through brute force but the second managed to dredge up 3 or 4 old anchor chains, all comprehensively tangled round his anchor. After a while Graeme and I went over and helped him free himself.

On Saturday afternoon the four of us decided we needed some exercise and so took a 4 km walk up to a reputedly good winery in the hills above Sivota on the road to Lefkada. We found a taverna for refreshments half way there with fantastic views into Sivota Bay. Happily the taverna was there for refreshments half way back as well!

Sivota Bay

But when we got to the winery it was closed …… well, mostly. We managed to tag onto the end of an over running coach tour and after a quick tasting bought a couple of bottles! Had to be done after all the hiking to get there!

We also had our last meal out with Graeme and Jayne that evening; the ’12 Gods’ restaurant was the best one we found in Sivota. And then we bid our farewells. It was lovely to see them again and spend time with them and we may not see them again until we return to Greece next year.  We’re pretty sure to meet up again as we’re both heading in the same general direction as each other.

Sunset in Sivota

We are both set to leave Sivota on Sunday although we’ll be off earlier with further to go. Paxos, here we come!