Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote “Going to Sicily is better than going to the moon”. Of course I’d much rather visit Sicily than the moon but our progress here has been as time consuming, frustrating and tricky as I imagine a trip to the moon might be and what a glorious moon right now. But let’s begin at the beginning….
From Vis we motor sailed to Vieste; Italy at last and a large Campari Spritz with olives and crisps, perfetto! There was time in the morning to walk into the town and buy some favourite things and then it was off to Trani where we revisited favourite places – Cafe Nautico and Paulo who plays Mozart in competition with the modern beat.
In an old palazzo, now a rather gorgeous looking hotel, we climbed the stairs to reach the rooftop bar and restaurant. It’s very much the end of season here so was pretty much deserted but we enjoyed a drink in the balmy evening with the views over the harbour to the cathedral whose tower, unlike last year, was not completely covered in scaffolding.
We stayed here two days. Siesta time in all Italian towns is a strange phenomenon. The streets become quiet and calm and then, like rain in a desert that suddenly brings forth flowers so at three or four o’clock a slow murmur of noise is heard like the sound of an approaching flock of birds, first tentatively and then suddenly the streets are alive again with noise and bustle. We then moved on to Bari where we cooked the squid and prawns that we had bought from the harbour side before leaving Trani. The squid were absolutely delicious although the boat smelled pretty rank for a while after.
On to Monopoli next where we had hardly touched the quay than I was running in search of an open tourist office, found in the nick of time, I was soon committed to meeting Sergio at 3.30 to drive us to Alberobello THE trulli town. We passed large fields with tractors busy turning over stony ground. There were olive groves, pear and cherry orchards, almonds and vines and every so often a little trullo – these peculiar buildings are not ancient, they date from the 16th century when landlords as ever trying to evade tax had these little edifices built with no mortar. Thus when a tax inspector was due, the poor peasants had to dismantle their homes until the visit was over then build them all up again. Alberobello was a gnomic fantasy, a middle earth place and I felt like Gulliver. Sergio’s view of the Italian economy was bleak.
When we arrived in Brindisi there was someone on the quay waiting, looking interested. We declined his help, later learning that he was a retired General and we had acquaintances in common! From here we took a train and bus to Ostuni the Citta Bianca – the White City. We had a couple of hours here wandering the streets and looking into the cathedral and had the best lunch in a while. It was pretty touristy and apart from its position I didn’t actually ‘get’ what was so special about it as there are billions of beautiful little hilltop towns all over Italy. I merged with a group tour – where’s Wally?!
Back in Brindisi there was a cruise liner. MSC Musica is well known to us as she featured in our trip last year when we avoided her on our way to Dubrovnik and here she was again old friend. She’s big.
As we took our leave of Brindisi, so too were a flight crew who had been staying in the hotel by our berth. Both leaving at the crack of dawn it struck me that they would probably have completed two journeys before we had even reached Santa Maria de Leuca which was our destination some 12 hours on.
We left S M de Leuca before dawn and I was so excited to see Orion in the sky again, at last he is visible, heralding for me the arrival of autumn. Ancient tribes used to view the constellations in a similar way; watching and waiting for the familiar patterns in the night sky and linking their appearance with the seasons. I love leaving in the dark, navigation lights on and the sun rising, a squishy ball of fluorescent gel; the sea was grey blue, milky and oily, smooth and perfect for spotting turtles sunning themselves or just bottling or, if we got too close, furiously paddling their pale little flippers to dive down, down and away. There were dolphins too, but too busy feeding to show much interest in us. Our next anchorage was outside Crotone harbour and again we left early, this time for Rocella Ionica – Porto dele Grazie. This is a marina and we had the luxury of showers and hot water, here there was a boat called CAVOK V. Only when I saw the occupants did the penny finally drop. They are so distinctive being the only Japanese couple that we have come across cruising the Med. We first met 6 years ago on the Greek island of Kythnos. I had carried their card around in my wallet and occasionally would look at it and think, must chuck that out, but here they were. Now they were inviting us to ‘Happy Hour’. I had completely forgotten the significance of the name of their boat; if that is, it had ever made an impression on me. It is a pilot thing – Cloud And Visibility OK
Rocella was fun and we hired electric bikes and whooshed along and up to the castle perched on the hill above the town.
I swam. Suddenly there seemed to be many British people around, whether holidaying or sailing and insisting that Calabria was Italy’s best kept secret and were reluctant for it to become better known as it is pretty unspoiled. I can see why, the climate is lovely, it’s sunny the sea is warm, the coast is sprinkled with towns perched on the tops of the hills that are the foot soldiers to the mountainous army of the wild interior. The restaurant in the marina is famous for its pizza by the metre and we had a half meter that night – delicious.
Our weather forecaster is Predict Wind and oh boy does it get this one right. More than a week before it was due it correctly predicted our predicament. Look at this………
So from Rocella after another day at sea, we anchored off a beach by Capo Spartivento, clear waters, a sandy bottom and a lovely swim. However in the night the town that was having its road resurfaced and the noise and smell of tarmac reached me as we rolled in an undulating sea. I did not know it then, although I should have sensed it, for next day the sea and wind got up and our new life jackets were worn for the first time; we were to be a whole six days before getting off the boat and we’re not off yet, I’m just desperately hoping………….
We have been anchored in the south bay of Siracusa, tantalizingly close to the old town of Ortygia, within view of the Duomo. The weather has been terrible as predicted and so here we are, so near and yet so far away. We arrived on Monday afternoon and it’s now Friday! We anchored in zone B as directed by the authorities and that evening the wind came and its blown and blown and we’ve prepared a second anchor just in case. With each lurch of the boat I stagger drunkenly sometimes landing in peculiar places, it is hard to keep balance. We now we have a team on the ground in the form of Alistair and Lis who are safely in a hotel and who are garnering intelligence on the situation ashore as all our attempts to access the Marina and the town quay have been met with a firm but polite ‘Non’! Yesterday at least it was sunny and the moon had been majestic, the wind is certainly enjoying its power and unwilling to give it up. It hasn’t all been bad. I have read a great deal, notably Lampedusa’s The Leopard which I loved and Lawrence Durrell’s Sicilian Carousel who with his usual sharp and sometimes unkind observations have kept me amused and informed. I have tamed Andy’s hair with my thinning scissors and cut my own; I have started learning a new routine, appropriately named FLOW; I have played my guitar and been creative with the available food – check out that pizza! Rations are now down to the boring but the gin and wine supply is holding up – just. My friend Mary so charmingly wrote, ‘avoid the Scrubey and drain the gun’ I know what she means!! Most important we are still speaking, Andy and I.
Last year, in Otranto, Alistair and Lis debunked prematurely to a non rolling hotel, that’s how they left us. Roll on a year and that is how they have found us – once again they have procured a hotel.