Tag Archives: Italy

Waving to Fabi’s cousins in Albania ….

A while back Valeria said on Facebook that we were off to Corfu. Fabiana asked us to wave at her cousins across the water in Albania. Now I am pretty sure they are Erion’s cousins rather than Fabiana’s, but we waved anyway.  Apparently the cousins didn’t get the memo.

We left Mandraki at 4pm on Sunday, 1st October for our 40 hour passage back across the Ionian to Roccella Ionica.   The first leg of this journey took us north through the North Corfu Channel, a mile wide stretch of water between Corfu and Albania, waving frantically as wé went.  We passed withing 3/4 of a mile of the Albanian coast and within a couple of miles of the port of Saranda. This is where the ferries from Corfu go and the AIS showed a British yacht in the harbour.  Something to consider when we return this way!!

North Corfu Channel with Saranda in the distance

By 6 pm we had turned west along the north coast of Corfu with the fishing line out and caught two large fat fish in rapid succession.  Perhaps it was just a coincidence but just as we were reeling them in and Valeria was preparing them we found ourselves being ‘chased’ by a small fishing boat, and they did seem intent on getting very close to us, so much so that I moved out of their way.  I wondered if they wanted their fish back, or perhaps it was Fabiana’s cousins ……..

An hour or so after sunset we negotiated the small island off the north west corner of Corfu and set our course of 236ºM for the next 35 hours.

The weather was entirely calm for the entire passage and what wind there was was astern of us all the way.   This was a 6th version of the forecast we must have missed and we made such good time that over night on Monday into Tuesday I had to slow down to keep our ETA to office hours, planning to arrive at 8 am.

We have heard consistently good things about Roccella, which is why we came, but it was still a pleasant suprise to be called by them on the VHF at about 7.30; it was almost as if they were expecting us!   An impression reinforced when, having secured to our berth we found a Brazilian flag on the lamp post behind us!  Every lamp post in the marina sports a national flag on it, all rather old and tatty, but what are the odds of us being put next to this one!

Although it is a little isolated Roccella does seem well organised and managed, and there is a growing ‘live aboard’ community here, comprising British, Australians, Canadians and Germans so far.  The marina is opening up the special ‘liveaboard’ shower block soon, there is to be a gym  and a language course in Italian run.  Almost a shame we’ll be leaving for the UK in November!

But before then we have to prepare the boat to be left for the winter and plan some exploration of the local area and get to know our new neighbours.

 

Cephalonia to Galaxidi

Although we left Argostoli at 9 on Saturday morning, we didn’t actually leave for Galaxidi until about 6 that evening, spending the day with Ivan, Lu and the girls. Our departure from Argostoli was delayed because another yacht had laid their anchor cable across ours and it took a bit of perseverance to free ourselves, then we had to take on fuel.

So after another day spent with friends we left at 6.30 for Galaxidi, planning another overnight passage to get into the Gulf of Corinth a day earlier than planned. This will give us a spare day until we arrive in Ormos Anavissou off the port of Palaia Fokaia where we pick up Zeynep and Stephen.

Cephalonia sunset

The passage itself was entirely uneventful, the evening wind died away by sunset and we didn’t even bother with the main sail just using the Code Zero, which Ivan had helped me rig up. Valeria’s excitement came at about 10pm when she had a nocturnal visit from some dolphins, a first for us and mine came at about 2 am when suddenly the wind picked up from the beam and I rolled out the Code Zero and we were flying along at 6 knots under sail …… for half an hour before the wind dropped away again.

18 mast, 24m bridge ……

At dawn we were approaching the bridge across the narrows between Rion and Antirion, entering the Gulf of Corinth from the Gulf of Patras, passing under the bridge at 7.30. The rest of the trip was equally quiet and we arrived at Galaxidi at about 2 pm and we all tied up to the Town Quay by 2.30, using our anchor again. Here there was no ‘Harbour Master’, just a rather scruffy young boy volunteering to take our lines. This was quite helpful as we had to tie up to rings on the Quay wall but not as helpful as he thought when he wanted €10 for the assistance, he got €5! The lady who collected the money for the berths wandered along at about 6 and asked for us to go to her office, a small kiosk on the quayside reminiscent of those used by car park attendants – all very laid back and delightfully inexpensive!

There isn’t a lot at Galaxidi but it is very pleasant and relatively peaceful. It is a holiday town popular mainly with the Greeks, but it is one of the two ports from which we could reach Delphi, the other is Itea, but Galaxidi sounded more pleasant.

Ciao Italia

Tomorrow morning, Sunday the 28th, we set off from Italy for Greece, our destination is Argostoli in Cephalonia.  Our crossing should take about 52 hours, if we make 5 knots all the way, and we should be there by Tuesday afternoon.

On our way we hope to pass John and Isabel coming in the opposite direction from Cephalonia, almost certainly passing exactly like ‘ships in the night’.

Our prime reason for staying in Cephalonia is to meet up with Ivan,  Lu, Bianca and Rebecca who will be in an hotel on the south west corner of the island. I have an idea to anchor in the bay where their hotel is,and although the charts show enough depth of water there is no information about the bay in the Pilot Book.   Regardless, we are looking forward to seeing them and hopefully they’ll spend a day or so with us on the boat.

All our shopping is done, the new fuel caps and shock absorber arrived and I had the outboard engine serviced so we can pick up Ivan, Lu and the kids.  The boat is clean, courses all laid off and so we’ll have an early night and aim to be away nice and early in the morning, looking forward to fair winds and following seas.

A few other monuments and churches in Palermo

Everywhere you go in the old centre of town you find a church, or some other massive monumental building, you could spend an entire day just walking from one to the other. Here are just a few I don’t think I mentioned elsewhere!

Church of S.Giuseppe, behind the Quattro Canti
Church of S Giuseppe dei Teatini, also beside the Quattro Canti
Porta Nova 1569-1585
Church of S. Anna 1606

The churchs of S.Maria dell’Ammiraglio, S.Carlos and S.Cataldo face each other across Plaza Belling,  behind Quattro Canti.

S.Caterina
S.Cataldo and S.Maria

You get the idea. If there is a Guiness Record for churches per square mile, Palermo must be in the running for it. The map we had showed about 40 churches and cathedrals in the old town area!

All in all Palermo is a beautiful city, a bit tatty in places but bright, vibrant and, well, monumental.

Valera found a fantastic ‘app’ called ‘visitacity’ which had excellent offline itineraries, maps and useful tourist information for Palermo.

Royal Palace and the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri.

There are a few palaces in Palermo but we just visited 2 of them, the Royal Palace and the Steri Palace.

Royal Palace
Royal Gardens looking towards the Cathedral
Maqueda Courtyard

The Royal Palace is home to the Palatine Chapel and the Royal Apartments, which are only open at the weekends.  Construction of the Chapel was begun in   1130, is a mix of many differant styles and is quite beautiful, the decoration, inside and out is made entirely of mozaics.

It is accessed from the first floor of the Maqueda CourtyArd which originated from a remodelling of the palace in in the late 16th century.

 

The Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri, was built in the early 14th Century by a powerful Sicílians nobleman and is famous for the painted ceiling in the great hall.  The ceiling is covered in painted boards depicting subjects such as the Judgement of Solomon and the story of Helen of Troy.

From 1600 to 1782 the Palace housed the tribunal of the Holy Inquisition, and the main ‘attraction’ is in the building alongside the palace which was a prison by the Inquisition. The walls of the cells were covered in graffiti by the prisoners using water, brick dust, blood, urine and excrement.

Some of the grafitti is in English, originating with various Protestant missionaries trying to convert the Catholics.

Once incarcerated prisoners were never seen again. Families had to pay the Inquisition for their food but many starved to death.  Under torture prisoners admitted their heresy, their possessions were forfeited to the Church and they were executed.  The prison was also famous for the murder of an Inquisitor by a prisoner; apparently this was the second on and last time that ever occurred.  The perpetrator is said to have spent a year manacles to a chair waiting for his sentance to be sent from Spain!

And as was pointed out these were educated men, one drew a detailed map of Sicily on a wall, obviously from memory.

Prisoners, without hope, even concealed hair and teeth in cracks in the walls apparently in an effort to show they had actually been there.

Very evocative and if you think about it, terrifying.

Teatro Massimo

On Thursday we went back to the Teatro Massimo Vittório Emmanuel.  This was built at the end of the 19th century, opening in 1897. It is the largest theatre in Italy and the third largest in Europe and the area of the stage is larger than the auditorium. Again, another impressive building, inside and out.

The ceiling panels actually open to provide ventilation to the auditorium
The Royal Box

All the sests in the theatre are available, and this includes those in the Royal Box; the only stipulation is that you need to book early as it is on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

Conceived in 1861 after the unification of Italy the theatre was designed to raise the profile of Palermo, the second biggest city in southern Italy after Naples.

Palermo Cathedral and the Quattro Canti

Having checked into our B&B we went for a wander in search of the Teatro Massimo,  Palermo Cathedral and the Palazzo Steri a Chiaramonte.  We found all three but the Theatre was only partly open and the Palazzo was closed for a conference; there is a theme developing here!

So the Theatre and the Palace went on our list for Thursday and we visited the Cathedral, and as we headed there we found the Quattro Canti rather by accident.

Quattro Canti – 2 of the 4 corners

The Quattro Canti is a small road junction with 4 matching monumental corners and seems far too small to accomodate such enormous creations.  The only place to really admire them is from the centre of the road junction, far from a healthy place to be!

Church of S Giuseppe dei Teatini

And just behind one of these corners is a church.  The front is impressive but doesn’t shout ‘church’.  The inside, however, is huge and beautifully decorated, especially the ceiling.

The Cathedral is a differant matter; it looks every inch a Cathedral and has a massive piazza in front of it from which you can admire it.
It is massive and although built by the Normans (1169 to 1185) it has a heavy Arabic influence in its decoration.   It is a beautiful building with fantastically intricate carvings on virtually every surface. Inside it is huge and relatively plain but the subdued decoration does’t detract from the overall impression at all.

As cathedrals go this is an amazing building, probably my favourite in Palermo.  There is not one view of it that is anything other than  magnificent.

Palermo

Palermo was on our original itinerary, but then was dropped after our two wasted days in Messina. But then after our abortive visit to Taormina we decided we would visit Palermo after all. It is about 3 hours by train from Messina, a bit far for a day trip so Valeria found us a B&B and we travelled there on Wednesday and returned on Thursday.

Via Sant’Augustino, our B&B’s just on the right …..

We arrived at lunch time and asked directions of a friendly transport policemen. We got a photocopy city map, detailed directions to our B&B and crime prevention advice that wouldn’t go amiss in São Paulo. We set off wondering where our hotel actually was and following the directions found ourselves in progressively more dingy narrow side streets crowded with market stalls. As it happens this describes a lot of old Palermo off the main streets, but we didn’t know that. Our hotel turned out to be on the 3rd floor of an apartment block which, from the outside, looked pretty run down, but again, that description fits a large number of buildings in the back streets of the old town. However; once we were in the Colours B&B we were very pleasantly surprised.

Church of S Maria della Catenary – 1500

Palermo is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and rejoices in the description of its architecture as Arab – Norman.   Again, the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Germans, Albanians, Spanish and French have been here but a large number of the monumental buildings, usually churches, appear to be Norman, with heavy Arabic influences. And there are a lot of churches. You cannot turn a corner without finding one, or sometimes 2 or 3 facing each other across a piazza; and they aren’t small either.

Piazza Bologni

Although most of the buildings fronting the main streets are well maintained, every now and then the facade slips and you come across a rather sorry looking ‘doer upper’, in the side streets the majority of the buildings seem to fall into this category and yet the ground floors are generally occupied by shops and restaurants with the rest of the building looking very neglected.

This stark contrast between ancient and modern, decorated and decrepit is the defining feature of Palermo and yet it all seems to fit together seamlessly and gives the old city a distinctive character. You can walk through a thousand years of history in 100 metres, while passing tiny side streets that just look like they haven’t been repaired in that long.

And the history is everywhere, wall to wall churches, stunning architectural monuments, palaces, churches, piazzas, theatres, cathedrals and of course some more churches.

We spent Wednesday afternoon getting our bearings and visiting the Cathedral, then picked just three places to visit properly on Thursday, visiting a few churches in between. To actually see Palermo properly would take longer but would end up quite expensive on entry fees, although it would probably be worth it.

Palermo was unexpectedly good.  A lively, busy atmosphere and plenty to see; we reckon we will have to come back.  In fact there is so much to see I have split our visit into a number of  different posts.

Chisel di S.Domenico

 

Taormina

Taormina is closed until the 28th.

Seriously. Shops, hotels, roads, no buses, nothing. The whole town is closed for the G7 summit.

There were almost more police than public outside town and at least ever 5th car was police, Guardia Finanza or Carabineri.  The only boats off the coast were naval fast patrol boats.

We walked from the station to Giardini Naxos, which is just along the coast from Taormina, had lunch, saw the ugliest church we’ve ever seen and came back.

Seems about right for an international economy meeting to shut down the local economy for the week!

We’ve scratched Etna and are going to visit Palermo instead.

 

Messina

Things didn’t quite go according to plan after arriving in Messina; we lost 2 days due to strong winds bouncing us around against the berth we were put on and didn’t dare leave the boat!

Madona della Lettera, entrance to the port of Messina

The marina in Messina is just outside the harbour entrance and is built entirely from floating pontoons. The outer ones are big heavy concrete affairs known as ‘wave breakers’, and although they offer some protection from wind waves they offer none from the swell caused by passing ships and in stong winds with the pontoons and ourselves moving against each other, well, it is uncomfortable, noisy and destructive; one of our shock absorber springs broke.   It was so bad we didn’t want to leave the boat unattended and were considering leaving the marina completely if the weather didn’t improve.

Celebrity Reflection

Anyway, our plight was noted and we were moved into a more sheltered berth and managed to spend Monday afternoon wandering around Messina.   This is our second time here, the last time was a few years ago as guests of Julian in Celebrity Reflection, which coincidentally arrived just after us

Messina was founded by the Greeks in the 8th century BC and has been occupied by virtually everyone since.  Following the Greeks came the Mamertines, then Romans, the Goths, the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs and then the Normans.  Richard the Lionheart seized the city briefly in 1189 over a dowery dispute on his way to the crusades.

Church of the Catalans. Apparently the original site predates the Normans.

The city grew in importance, reaching its zenith under the Spanish in the 17th century boasting the first Jesuit School, a University and a Senate. The city rebelled against the Spanish, aided by the French but following the Peace of Nijmegan in 1678 the Spanish recovered the city, sacked it and stripped it of its institutions.  Some Peace treaty!

Thereafter Messina went into a decline and suffered three devastating earthquakes in 1783, 1894 and 1908, and what was then left was bombed heavily during World War II.  It is little wonder that there isn’t much of ‘old’ Messina left!  Following the war the city was awarded a Gold Medal for Military and Civil valour.

The 12th century Cathedral was built by the Normans, then rebuilt after the 1908 quake and the war and now boasts a spectacular bell tower with an astronomical clock and a mechanically animated display of figures representing various aspects of the city’s history. This is run at noon every day and starts with the lion at the top roaring, then the cockeral beneath it crowing.  Then the figures below the cockeral begin moving around the tower accompanied by an orchestral version of Ave Maria played over loud speakers.  It is really cool and, so far, unique in my experience!

The Lion
The Cockeral and mechanical figures

The inside of the cathedral is also pretty spectacular with a fabulous carved and painted wooden ceiling.

Fountain of Orion

Outside the church is another survivor, the Fountain of Orion.  This was commissioned in 1547.     Dotted around the city are other monuments all with explanatory sign boards and in all Messina is an interesting place and pleasant enough to stroll around.  Although it is busy it doesn’t seem crowded, or particularly ‘vibrant’.

Apart from the magnificent cathedral and clock tower there isn’t a lot in town to grab you.  It had everything we needed as a base to explore Sicily and made a pleasant stop over, once we’d got a decent berth!  We’re now planning some visits further afield.

Sanctuary of Mount Camel. Built in 1930.