Tag Archives: Italy


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!

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.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.