Tag Archives: Italy

Fair winds and a following sea ……

With our repairs completed and our new ‘bumpers’ installed we were back in the water by 2 pm on Wednesday, the 3rd, and planning to leave for Roccella.   The forecast gave us south-easterly 15 to 20 knot winds for the whole passage and even a slight reduction for our planned arrival at Roccella on Friday morning.

But first, after 24 hours of dockyard work the boat was a tip, the compartments above the engine spaces are full of everything from the passarella and tool kits to the fishing gaff and hose fittings.   All of this had to be removed to give the fitters access and now had to be replaced.   Then there were fenders and mooring ropes to stow away, loose kit to be secured and everything generally prepared for 2 days at sea.   So as soon as we were afloat and away from the dockyard slip we anchored off Lefkas Town Quay and set about preparing the boat for sea with an eye on the clock.   The Lefkas  bridge opens on the hour and happily by 2.50 we were good to go, weighed anchor and joined the queue of yachts waiting to transit the bridge.   This takes a bit of boat handling to maintain position in the canal, in a cross wind, not too close to the others ahead or astern of you so as to time your arrival when the bridge opens.

The sunken yacht refloated, almost.

Once through the bridge we passed the newly re-floated sunken yacht.   Apparently the yachtsman involved had started a FB page to raise funds to help pay for the salvage ….. Whilst I have every sympathy I am pretty sure I would not have been on that wall in those winds, and definitely would not have used a kedge anchor – oh, and I don’t use FB!

Wednesday sunset

But we were off, and we had the predicted ‘fair winds and following seas’.   Generally south-easterly and 15 ish knots although close to the island they were a bit variable so I didn’t put the sails up.   We needed to make 5 knots for two days and so faffing around with sails in variable winds was just going to be frustrating.    Over night, with the winds settling to 15 knots from behind us, Valeria recorded us as surfing at up to 8 knots on occasions.  Once I woke on Thursday morning we did get the sails up and were making 5 or 6 knots running before a 15 to 20 knot wind, all of which left us well ahead of schedule and by Thursday evening we had dropped the Main Sail and were under the Jib alone and still making 5 knots.

So with nightfall we furled away the jib and ‘sailed’ under ‘bare poles’.   This is when you are running with the wind behind you, being pushed along by the wind acting on the hull alone.   As we are so tall and wide we have a lot of ‘windage’ and even without sails or engines we were making 3 to 4 knots which was the exact speed we needed to make to get to Roccella at 8 am when the Marina opened for business.

But then fair winds and following seas became too much too little and the wrong direction.

As we approached the Italian coast on Thursday evening into Friday morning we could see lightening all along the Calabrian coast.  Lots of it.  As we got closer to the coast we began to get VHF reception and Italian weather forecasts which were predicting south easterly gales and thunder storms in the Ionian Sea area.  As the evening wore on the wind began increasing slowly and all the thunder storms seemed to move along the coast to sit right in front of us, over Roccella.

Having seen the entrance to Roccella in south-easterly gales last year, with breaking seas over the sand bar, I did not fancy trying to negotiate the entrance with heavy beam seas, in a thunder storm and so at about 2.30 am I made the decision to head for a port of safety.   On this coast there are two, Messina and Reggio, or Crotone.   The Messina Straights are not particularly inviting in a south-easterly gale so it meant heading for Crotone, 40 odd miles, or 8 hours, north east along the coast.  So with Roccella just 20 miles away we steered away.

By now the thunder storms were beginning to move off the coast and as we headed north east they were moving with us and the forecasts were predicting ‘instabilities moving rapidly north east’.   We had lightening on three sides of us and by day break I could actually see the roll of cloud marking the edge of the squall line out to sea on our starboard side.

As the storms, easily visible on radar, did seem to be moving north east I decided to head out to sea for the roll of cloud, away from the lightening strikes.     Blow me if the wind didn’t drop, swing around through 90 degrees and start up again from the NW.   In military parlance the storms, which had been marching steadily north east in Column of Route, had just done a Right Turn on the March and were now Advancing in Review Order straight at us!

Thunder storms and squalls make their own wind and so trying to avoid them is a generally futile endeavour, but weighed that futility against the danger of a bolt of lightning using our nice aluminium mast as a grounding rod, which would fry our navigation aids, I gave it a go anyway.   Valeria stowed all our electronics in the oven and microwave as both act as Faraday Cages which should protect them from lightening, and off we went.

Not so fair and coming from every dirdction

At 8 am getting no closer to either Roccella or Crotone and still being chased by the storms I called Roccella, hopefully.   We were told ‘you can come’ and so we altered course back south.      In daylight the thunderstorms were easy to identify, looking completely different to mere rain showers.   There was the low, dark cloud base and then beneath it the dull, almost dead grey of the torrential rain which provides a contrasting backdrop to the lightning bolts hitting the sea surface.

For two and a half hours I successfully managed to skirt these storms.   Watching them on the radar was like hill walking, there was always one more crest to scale, always one more storm behind the ‘last one’.    The winds were from everywhere and as we clipped the edges of some of the storms we had winds gusting to 30, even 40 knots.   With the wind constantly changing direction the seas were ‘confused’ and had been whipped up to 5 metres high with breaking crests; at the Helm Station I am 4 metres above sea level and I was looking up at these waves!

With these sort of sea conditions moving around the boat is a real challenge.   You move one foot or one hand at time.  Move a hand and a foot and you are flat on your face.  I won’t even go into toilet breaks whist wearing full foul weather gear and a safety harness in a boat pitching, rolling and yawing in 5 metres jumps.

The squall line as we headed west for Roccella.

Finally at 10.30 the southern-most squall passed us and there were just a few mere rain showers to the west so I altered course for Roccellla.   But there was a sting in the tail of the storms.  Two thunderstorms appeared ahead of us, one crossed in front of us but the second one there was no avoiding.   Unlike the others we’d skirted the wind was almost non existent, the seas were still 4 or 5 metres high and confused but were no longer breaking, being beaten down by the torrential rain, visibility was down to a boat’s length and the lightening was striking the sea ahead of us.   The strikes and the thunder were simultaneous, and deafeningly loud, literally someone toppling a wardrobe, a big one, right upstairs.   Far too close for comfort.

Hoping that lightening really does not strike the same place twice, and that the plastic deck would provide sufficient insulation despite my exposed position and dripping wet foul weather gear we motored on, and on, and on.    My big fear was a lightening strike to the mast – a very real danger.   Without the electronic navigation aids we’d be relying on a mobile phone GPS, a paper chart and a magnetic compass, although how that would fare in a lightning strike I have no idea!   Longest hour and a half of my life to be honest.

Hint of a rainbow, also beaten flat by the rain

The first inkling of an end to it was a lessening of the rain drumming on the hull, then some slight definition to the horizon and finally lighter grey skies.    Although the seas were still huge the reduced wind and hammering by the rain had calmed them down a bit and I pushed the throttles forward again and we were making 5 or 6, sometimes 7 knots towards Roccella.   Now was not the time for single engine, fuel efficiency!

Roccella!!!!

Finally, after about 12 hours of driving around in a circle, we could make out the coast, then the castle and watch tower over Roccella.  The seas were still 3 metres high across the sand bar as we approached and turning into the harbour entrance put them on our beam so we were rolling around a bit as we headed for the entrance, but by comparison this was nothing.   Our reserved winter berth required a bit of tight, stern first manoeuvring to get into but then we were in.   The Marina Manager, Francesco, helped tie us up and was telling us that the local fishermen had been reporting 5 metre seas!   Tell us about it!

But we were safely in.  I had been on watch at the Helm Station continuously for 16 hours straight, drenched and dodging thunderstorms for 12 of them.   Valeria had been in the saloon passing me food and coffee and praying, continuously.   It all started going south on 4 October, my mum’s birthday and the day she died.  Perhaps she was watching over us.

In the words of the Beach Boys, ‘This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.’

Let’s not do it again, ever.

…. as if it never happened!

Florence

For our last few days in Florence we bought a pair of 3 day ‘Firenze Cards’.  These were quite expensive and so we were determined to get the maximum use of them, although I am not sure that it is actually possible to see everything worth seeing in three days, but we tried.   The challenge is that there is so much there and so little time to appreciate it all!

Palazzo Vecchio

Our guest house, Affittacamere Nel Cuore qDi Firenze, was right alongside the Palazzo Vecchio, home to the Medici family, and as such was really centrally placed for seeing the sights.

Although chilly it was really pleasant wandering around between our chosen destinations.   It was also unexpectedly crowded, in March; what it would be like in the height of the tourist season I shudder to imagine.    Florence is generally quite expensive but it is a University town so there are cheaper alternatives, the Central Market for one and near our guest house a series of ‘street food’ restaurants that sold enormous meat sandwiches.

Room of Cosimo il Vecchio
Room of Cosimo il Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling panel of the Audience Room
Ceiling panel of the Room of Cosimo il Vecchio

The Medicis originally came to Florence from a small Tuscan village, Cafaggiolo, in the 12th century and made their money in banking.  Cosimo went to work for his dad at the family bank which, by the 15th century, had branches all over Europe.   This made it the bank of choice for the Papacy; local churches could easily find a Medici Bank to pay their contributions into and get it transferred to Rome!    Early in his political career Cosimo was banished from Florence in 1434.  He left and took his bank with him, as you do.   This resulted in other financiers and artists seeking patronage following him to Venice.   His banishment lasted for all of a year after which he was asked to come back, with his bank!

Mural depicting Cosimo returning to Florence after being exiled for a year
Mural depicting Cosimo returning to Florence after being exiled for a year
Ceiling of the Chapel of the Priors, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling of the Chapel of the Priors, Palazzo Vecchio
Audience Chamber, Palazzo Vecchio
Audience Chamber, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling of the Audience Room
Ceiling of the Audience Room
Uffizi Gallery
Ufizzi Gallery. Four corridors lined with sculptures.
Ufizzi Gallery. Four corridors lined with sculptures.
Painted ceiling in the Gallery
Adoration of the Magi – 1487 – Domenico Ghirlandaio. Ufizzio Gallery
The Holy Family with Infant St. John the Baptist, known as ‘Doni Tondo’ – 1507 – Michaelangelo. Ufizzi Galery

In 1737 the last Grand Duke of Medici descent died without an heir ending 300 years of family rule.   In that time the Medici sponsored virtually every Italian scientist, artist, architect or philosopher you have ever heard of and most of the ones you haven’t; as a result the city is pretty magnificent.

Palazzo Richardo Medici
Chapel ceiling, Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
Chapel ceiling, Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
Sala Luca Giordano, Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Sala Luca Giordano, Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Santa Maria Novela

Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella

Almost every building is spectacularly decorated, with a heavy emphasis on painted ceilings; we needed neck braces after three days of looking up!

Florence Cathedral, Il Duomo
Duomo main facade
Decoration above main door of the Duomo
Decoration above main door of the Duomo
Dome of the Duomo
Roman mosaic beneath the Duomo

The only ‘disappointment’ was the Duomo.   Externally it is a magnificent building but internally it is relatively plain, being free should have given us a clue, and we could have given it a miss and not missed a lot.   The saving grace were the extensive Roman ruins in the crypt.   There is a Duomo Museum which is more interesting than the actual Duomo itself!

La SS Annunziata di Firenze
La SS Annunziata di Firenze – not much from the outside …
Nave

Palazzo Pitti

The Medici weren’t the only wealthy bankers in Florence.  The Pitti family were pretty well off too and had a small place, sorry palace, on the south bank of the Arno.  The Pitti and Medici were not the best of friends and the Pitti were amongst those who banished Cosimo.

Palazzo Pitti from the Giardino Boboli

Almost every room was magnificently painted with ceilings to match, each one more spectacular than the last.

Sala dell'Iliade
Sala dell’Iliade
Sala di Marte
Sala di Marte
Sala di Apollo
Sala di Apollo

This is one wall and the ceiling, painted.   The top of the wall is where the two spotlights sit.

3D painted ceiling
Santa Croce

The Church and Convent of Santa Croce was built in what was a poor area of Florence and is below the level of the River Arno; it floods dramatically, with water height reaching 5 metres or more.

Santa Croce
Tomb of Galileo, Santa Croce. The Galileo Museum has an awesome collection of old scientific instruments
Altar
Apse, behind the Altar

 

 

 

Convent of Santa Croce
Flood heights as recorded in the Cenaloco Refectory
The Academia

Michaelangelo’s ‘David’ in the Academia was magnificent.   We didn’t find the rest of the museum so impressive, but then we’re not art historians.

Michelangelo's 'David' - apparently carved from a scrap lump of marble ....
Michelangelo’s ‘David’ – apparently carved from a scrap lump of marble ….

So far I think Florence was the most impressive Italian city we have visited.   Rome the most historic, Venice the most romantic (I proposed to Valeria there) and Pisa the most iconic, but Florence is the one we would definitely return to.  There is still so much to see.

Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra has the reputation for being a must see destination, five quaint, picturesque villages clinging to the sheer hillside above the coast near La Spezia.   We’d sailed past this stretch of coast last year on our way from Genoa to Pisa, even anchoring overnight close by and completely missed the view from the sea and so decided to rectify the omission, by train!

Monterosso

We took the train from Florence to La Spezia, a 2 hour journey and then got the local coastal train which allows you to hop on and off at each village which are about 5 minutes apart on the train.   The five villages of Cinque Terra from west to east are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore; we started at Monterosso.

Monterosso
Monterosso

Monterosso is a large village in 2 parts; the northern end around the harbour is pretty uninspiring but a walk south from the station takes you into the older part of town.  Quaint enough but nothing to grab our imagination!

 

Vernazza

The remaining villages are fairly quaint, and have a pretty unique character but they are far from the isolated havens of picturesque tranquillity they once were or the brochures would have you believe they still are.  Certainly, Monterosso and, finally, Riomaggiore, being the closest to ‘civilisation’ are perhaps the least inspiring of the five.

Street in Corniglia

Corniglia, the central village of the 5, is perched high above the coast without its own harbour.   It is the most isolated and least spoilt of the villages and is all narrow winding streets and alleyways, which are never far from terraces with great views along the coast.

Corniglia
Coast south of Corniglia

Vernazza and Manorolo are the most colourfully painted of the  villages (think Tobermoray in Italian) and Manorolo has the most ‘interesting’ harbour.

Manorolo
Manorolo

In the case of Manorolo the term ‘harbour’ is rather ambitious.  It is more of a rock pool with a very steep slip way, and a crane to lift boats the 20 or so metres up the cliff to avoid using the slip way!

Manorolo from the ‘harbour’.

By the time we got to Riomaggiore we were well and truly Cinque Terra’d out.   That this is the least attractive of the five probably didn’t help, but again, the views were good.

Coast above Riomaggiore

Over all we were somewhat underwhelmed; but then we have seen many quaint, picturesque villages in our travels and fully admit to being spoilt.   The area is a hiking destination and there are a series of trails, totalling I think 35 km,  (all closed when we visited) along the coast linking the villages.    The advice is to spend a week in the area, with a day or so in each village to get to know each one.  I think that a good days walk with stunning views and an evening enjoying the local cuisine in a quaint fishing village is the way to see the area,  ‘binging’ all 5 in a few hours is not.   Unfortunately, for us it was a long day and a little bit of an anti climax!

 

Siena, Monteriggioni and San Gimignano

On Wednesday, 21st, we took a bus tour from Florence through the Tuscan countryside south of the city to nearby Siena, on the way visiting the villages of Monteriggioni and San Gimignano and having a wine tasting lunch.

A chilly street in San Gimignano

San Gimignano is a small, picturesque, walled town with a castle on top of the hill.   This was a typical bus tour flying visit with just an hour scheduled.  San Gimignano was famous for it’s tower houses, most of which are gone, but the height of the tower indicated the wealth of the family concerned.  There were some 72 towers once, now down to just 13 remaining.   The village was apparently founded by the Etruscans, rather than the Romans.  Our guide told us the Etruscans built on hill tops but the Romans favoured rivers!

Main Street in San Gimignano
The main street in San Gimignano
Piazza della Cisterna
Tuscan countryside around San Gimignano
Brrrrr …..
Main Gate to Monterigionni

Moneriggioni is a large castle with a village inside it.   It was built by the Sienese in the 13 century as a defence against the Florentine Medici and was  reputed to be impregnable, until 1554.  The Medicis laid siege to the castle and in typically Medici style deployed their powerful and exceptionally large ‘Seige Wallet‘.   They simply bribed someone to leave the castle gates unlocked – and then Monteriggioni wasn’t so impregnable after all!

 

Via Gramsci, Monteriggioni
Piazza Roma
Piazza Roma

After leaving Monteriggioni we were taken to a local vineyard for lunch and a wine tasting; the almost obligatory attempt to flog very expensive wine and obscenely expensive Balsamic Vinegar to a bus load of tourists.   The vinegar was really good, the price not so much and we were introduced to various varieties  of Chianti, but I am afraid it was lost on Valeria and I; we liked the red but not the white so much ….. Philistines!

Siena was our final, and longest, stop.   Legend has it that the city was founded by the sons of Remus, co founder of Rome.   This is supposedly why Siena and Rome use the wolf suckling two children as their ‘badge’; apparently both the stories about the founder and the badge are just myths.

Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, Piazza del Campo

The high lights of the visit were the main square,  the Piazza del Campo.   They hold a horse race around the square twice a year and scenes from ‘Quantum of Solace’ were filmed there.

Duomo di Siena

The real attraction though is the Cathedral; The Duomo di Siena.   It is magnificently decorated.   We were told by our guide that the interior of the Duomo was more impressive than that of Florence’s much larger version; having now seen both we can confirm she was right.   It is magnificent, the Reading Room doubly so,  and photographs simply can’t do it justice.

Marble floor in the Aisles
Ceiling of the Reading Room
Scene from the wall of the Reading Room
The Reading Room
Reading Room
Main church

It was a full day and nice to get out to see a bit of the surrounding area.   Tuscany, or the bit we saw from the bus windows is very picturesque and the villages and towns are quaint.   Siena probably has more to offer than our 3 hours there afforded us, but if nothing else the Duomo was well worth the visit!

First day in Florence

Piazza di San Firenze
Complesso di San Firenze

Tuesday, the 20th, was our first full day in Florence and we went for a wander to get our bearings.

Cathedral Bell Tower

Although Florence is a maze of narrow streets these suddenly open out into large piazzas allowing you to actually stand back and see the monumental architecture, not always possible in other places!  Once you get your bearings navigating between the churches and palaces is not too difficult.

San Lorenzo Cathedral
Upstairs at the Central Market is a ‘Food Court’; great selection of food at reasonable prices, so good we ate here twice.
Ponte Vecchio – Old bridge with new boutique jewellery shops each side of the road
Ufffizi Gallery from the south side of the river
Copy of Michaelangelo’s ‘David’.

Without our Firenze Card at this point we decided to head for the free stuff, of which there is not a lot.   The most obvious is the Piazzale Michaelangelo on the south bank of the river offering spectacular views across the city.   There is also the Abbey of San Minato al Monte above the Piazzale.  The facade is impressive but the interior not so much.  We also followed a recommendation for a restaurant and had dinner in the Trattoria La Casalinga – the meals were great and the fillet steak was excellent!

The tower of the Palazzo Vecchio dominates the skyline
View from the Abbey steps
The Abbey facade.
Valeria making new friends everywhere!

So with an better idea of what to see and where to see it we decided to take Wednesday and Thursday to see some of the countryside around Florence and then dedicate the weekend to seeing the city itself.

 

Arriving in Florence

We left Lugano on Monday, 19th March on the train to Florence having planned a week in an Air B&B guest house in the centre of town.   We knew there was a lot to see there but now, having done it, realise that is a massive understatement.

Ponte Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio from the end of our street!

Normally I like to find out a bit about the history of the places we visit, but Florence is all history, masses of it.   All I can honestly remember, other than it was of Roman origin, is that Cosimo Medici, 1389-1464, the Father of the Nation, founded the Medici dynasty; there after it is a blur.   The Medici family ruled here for centuries and were so rich they couldn’t store all their money and so had to build palaces and cathedrals, collect statues and art and endow artists and scientists instead.  Possibly an overstatement but the Medici appear to have funded the Renaissance.

River Arno

We bought ourselves Firenze Cards, which are 72 hour passes giving access to all the museums and monuments and each one was grander than the last.  But I get ahead of myself.

We arrived on Monday afternoon and with our planned bus stop programmed into Google Maps set off from the train station …. into a building site; the bus stop was under a large pile of bricks!   We managed to find the temporary stop and then caught the small electric shuttle bus that runs around the tiny back streets of the city.  These buses might be environmentally friendly, but they are the most uncomfortable vehicles in existence.   They have elliptical wheels, no suspension and run on cobbled streets.   It dropped us off a short walk from our Air B&B, on the top floor of a building right alongside the Palazzo Vecchio.   It was quirky place but ideal for our needs and it was entirely central.

Il Duomo

With 7 days in town and the Firenze Card only lasting 3 days we decided to reconnoitre on Tuesday, take a bus tour into the Tuscan countryside on Wednesday, and on Thursday, the best forecast weather, a day trip on the train to Cinqueterra, 5 coastal villages in a National Park near La Spezia.   On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we would ‘do’ Florence on the Firenze Card before catching the over night bus back to Roccella.

 

Milan

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!