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Deep Blue
Living The Dream
Moored up in Malta!

After 6 months of travelling in the Mediterranean, visiting places such as the French Riviera, the leaning tower of Pisa, Napoleon's place of exile on the island of Elba, swimming in the clear, crystal waters of the east coast of Sardinia, climbing volcanoes in the Aeolian Islands, passing through the Straits of Messina, seeing the lava on Mount Etna and spending 3 weeks at anchor off the historic city of Syracuse, we have arrived at our winter destination of Malta.

We left Syracuse at 6pm and arrived in Malta at 8.30am the following day. With some wind behind us but a rolly sea, we didn't do much sailing but the view of the fortifications around Valletta Harbour upon our arrival was fantastic.

We are in Msida Marina where our friends, Angie & Wayne, met us to take our lines. Jim and Daphne, who we met in Syracuse, are also here too and there are several other boats that we made friends with in Syracuse making their way here this week. Looks like the winter is going to be very sociable!

Space here in Msida is very tight at the moment and we do not have a permanent berth until some of the local boats are lifted out of the water for the winter, which will free up space.

Will do further updates in due course but just wanted to let you all know that we are here.

Noto Baroque style city

To celebrate Chris's birthday on 23rd, we took a bus and visited Noto, supposedly one of Sicily's most beautiful cities.

The hour bus ride took us along country roads, passing citrus and olive trees on each side, and through old towns. The varied scenery took our minds off the bus driver who spent most of the journey with one hand holding his mobile phone to his ear with his other hand going between the steering wheel and gesticulating to the person at the other end of the phone! The town was rebuilt after the devastating earthquake in 1693 and today stands as a fine example of Baroque architecture. Every building is very ornate and most of the important buildings are built from a rose coloured stone that changes colour as the sunlight changes throughout the day.

It isn't a big place and can be visited easily in one day. We saw the Cathedral, Basilica, Municipal buildings and climbed the bell tower of a nearby church to get some rooftop photos.

As it was Chris's birthday, we stopped for a proper lunch at Trattoria del Carmine. We shared a mixed Antipasto of roasted peppers, olives, cheese stuffed vegetables and omelette before going onto our Primo Piatti of pesto tagliatelle for me and ham and cheese ravioli for Chris. Our Secondo Piatti was steak for Chris and mixed seafood for me. With a nice cold bottle of prosecco to wash it down with, we didn't have any room left for dessert, unfortunately. (See photos in Gallery/Italy/Sicily/Noto).

We plan to stay in Siracusa until the end of next week when we hope to head to Malta. It is very full there right now with racing boats and entourage so there is no room for any extras. We are not complaining though. The weather here is still lovely, though we are expecting some wind midweek, and there is plenty to keep us busy or not.

Archaeological Park

In the centre of Syracuse is the Archaeological Park that has the remains of a Greek Theatre and Roman Amphitheatre, amongst others.

The Greek Theatre was built in the 5th Century BC and was originally composed of 67 rows of seats holding up to 20,000 spectators who came to watch plays being performed. During the Spanish reign, 21 rows of seats were removed to build the defensive walls of the city.

The Roman Amphitheatre dates back to the 3rd & 4th Century AD. It has two entrances, one at each side and it was here that gladiator-fights and also fights against wild beasts took place.

Funny how the Greeks were interested in performing plays whilst the Romans were more interested in killing each other!

Sunday lunch aboard Souris Rose

When we arrived in the anchorage here in Siracusa, and even before we noticed that all of the yachts and the single motor boat were all live boards, like ourselves, we thought that the place had a warm and friendly feel to it. This was then made apparent when Jill and David from the motor boat, Souris Rose, sent out invitations to us all to join them for Sunday lunch on their boat. Each boat brought along a dish of food and something to drink and we had a great time. There were eleven dinghies attached to their boat as a mixture of nationalities including English, Dutch, Swedish, French, American and Turkish climbed aboard and spent a great afternoon, and for some an evening too, together exchanging stories and enjoying good food. It was a great thing for Jill and David to have done and, as a lot of the guests are planning to winter in Malta, we have already made some new friends before we have even got there.

Siracusa (Syracuse)

We had been looking forward to arriving at Siracusa and had a great sail here. Turning the corner into the protected bay, we were not disappointed as the late afternoon sun lit up the elegant buildings of the old town. We were hoping to go against the town quay but it was closed for works and so we headed over to the northwest anchorage where another half a dozen boats were.

The old town, known as Ortiga, was built on a small island and was founded in 734BC by colonists from Corinth and later connected to the mainland by a causeway. It is fantastic with lots of tiny streets full of baroque limestone mansions. This was once the most powerful city-state of Magna Graecia, rivalling even Athens in power. It became the largest fortified city of the Greek world. Siracusa controlled Sicily and the western Mediterranean and enjoyed some 200 years of prosperity until a quarrel with Rome. At the time, the great scientist, Archimedes, lived here and helped devise enormous catapults and a system of mirrors and lenses that he directed on the sails of the Roman ships, setting them on fire.

The Cathedral 'Il Duomo' has been recently renovated and just took our breath away. It was built on the site of a Doric temple and over the years has been added to with a Byzantine basilica, a Norman church, late Renaissance and finally Baroque elements. When we visited, the choir were practising and we just sat and listened as we took it all in. Within the city you can see Greek temples, Christian churches, Swabian, Aragonese and Baroque buildings, courtyards, Arabian alley ways, an important Jewish quarter with a synagogue that has been transformed into a Catholic Church; we don't know what they think about that!
The old town is very clean with a restaurant around every corner.

Crossing over one of several small bridges, you enter the new town which is where most of the commerce is located. During the weekend, we watched 'kayak water polo' in the centre of town for the first time. The two teams took it very seriously and lots of locals came out to support them. It was colourful, very fast and there was plenty of Sicilian machismo on display!

We had wished to have some good weather again and a nice place to stay for a week or so before arriving in Malta for winter and looks as if our wishes have been answered here. There has been a huge high pressure area over us for some time, bringing beautiful settled weather and warm sunshine.

Augusta Free fishes!

Whilst not the most attractive of anchorages, Augusta is the main oil port for Italy, it did provide us with a nice one-night stop over on our way to Syracuse. With the sun shining, Chris took the opportunity to try his hand at fishing again! A local fisherman, on his way back into town, waved at us, as most people here seem to do, as he went past. We waved back and he turned around and motored over to us. "Do you want some fish? Two for you and two for your wife," he said to Chris. "Maybe. How much are they?" he asked. "Oh, nothing" and he put four fishes into a bag and handed them over to Chris. He had obviously caught plenty himself and took pity on us. We didn't mind, we had two meals from them. How kind, but the people who live on the east coast do seem to be very friendly and welcoming without an ulterior motive.

Acitrezza Aci Castello - Acireale

Continuing our journey south, we arrived at Acitrezza and moored against the town quay for free. Acitrezza is a small fishing village and most famous for The Ciclopi, black rock pillars that rise out of the sea and which are part of Greek legends. We stayed here for a couple of days and used it as our base to visit the towns of Aci Castello and Acireale.

We visited both towns in one day, catching a bus that cost us just 2.50 each for the whole day. You buy tickets from the local newsagents or Tabacchi as the locals call them. At Aci Castello, we visited the Norman castle that seems to grow out of the rocks and offers a fantastic view of The Ciclopi. At Acireale, we arrived at Piazza Duomo and were wowed by the intricate stone carving on the facade of the Cathedral. The town has lots of buildings and church's to see and is well worth a visit.

Riposto Mount Etna lava flow

We had to go into a marina here, Marina dell'Etna, as there is no place to anchor out and the weather forecast was predicting strong winds anyway. (As I write this, we have gusts of 41 knots of wind, about 50 mph, here but we are quite secure). Like the rest of Sicily, the marina charges are very expensive and this place is no exception, 72 euros per night (approx. 58 per night with water & electric on top!).

The town is a working town not given over to tourism with Europe's highest active volcano, Mount Etna overhead. We haven't seen the top of Mount Etna yet as it has been covered in cloud since yesterday but we have been able to see the veins of lava flow glowing on the side of the volcano once darkness falls. Riposto became established as an exporting centre from the 12th century and grew as a major exporting port along the Mediterranean. Today, its history is to be seen in some elegant buildings that have now seen better days and we do not understand why they are not cleaned up but then maybe the ash from Mount Etna would cover them again just as quickly as they were cleaned. From here, you can visit Mount Etna, though we have decided not too as we are a bit 'volcanoed out' after our visit to the Aeolian Islands and there is snow up there and we don't want to do cold yet! There are lots of Bed & Breakfasts in the area and plenty of outdoor activities to suit everyone from mountain bike trails to off-road excursions.

Naxos (Giardini) & Taormina

Naxos is a tourist resort overlooked by the town of Taormina perched high on the hillside above. Naxos was our preferred anchorage from which to visit Taormina because it was the best protected from the swell that seems to run all along the east coast so far.

Naxos is the site of the oldest Greek settlement on Sicily and is known for its excavations that date back to 4th & 3rd century BC. We anchored behind the breakwater of the port for one night. The next day, the coastguard came to see us to tell us that we had to move away from the port area as a large cruise boat was due the next morning at about 7am. We looked in our pilot book and found three coves that we could go to just around the corner. We checked them all out and they were not acceptable; one was full of mooring buoys designed for small boats only and the other two were very deep and surrounded by rocks. So, back to Naxos we went. The bay there is large and open to the east and we anchored in sand. However, the boat rocked from side to side all night due to the large swell that came into the bay and which seems to run all along the east coast. We didn't sleep very much. You can imagine how we felt when we got up the next morning to see that a cruise boat had not arrived at 7am and therefore we could have stayed where we were. The cruise boat eventually arrived at about 2pm that day! We saw it arrive as we looked down on the bay from Taormina.

Taormina is perched on a hill of Monte Tauro with Mount Etna behind and the sea in front. It has an ancient history with Sicels, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Arabs, Normans and Spaniards settling there. Today, there are lots of examples of Taormina's past to visit including a Greek-Roman Theatre and 13th century Cathedral. The town is picturesque and compact with narrow, winding streets, and many elegant buildings and the centre pedestrianised. There are so many restaurants that we worked out that you could eat out for lunch and dinner every day for about two years without eating in the same place twice! It was quite busy with lots of tourists and we could not imagine what it would have been like in July or August but it was well worth the visit as was the bus journey up from Naxos.

Strait of Messina eddies and whirlpools

The Strait of Messina separates Sicily from mainland Italy and is only 1 miles across at the northern end. Our timing at the entrance of the strait meant that we just caught the tail end of the high tide turning into a low tide which meant that the descending water took us with it, which was good.

Once inside we made our way down, dodging the many ferries between Messina in Sicily and the mainland. We also saw the Cunard cruiseship 'Queen Victoria' as we passed Messina. In bad weather, this bit of water has a ferocious reputation due to the many whirlpools that occur there. We were lucky and the sea was flat calm but we did have to go through some eddies and whirlpools but they were not hazardous to us. The pilot book indicated that we had only two choices of places to head for, both marinas. The marina at Messina was shown to be in charge band 5, whilst the one at little further away at Reggio Calabria was only 2/3. We had plenty of time before us so Reggio Calabria it was. The small marina is home to a few local boats and some charter yachts. There were only a couple of spaces free so we felt lucky to get one. However, we felt less lucky when we were told that as we were in September and that is still High Season for them, the cost would be 65 euros a night! We didn't have any choice as the next place to head for was 5 hours away so we stayed for what turned out to be two nights because of the weather but we were able to negotiate the next night, thank goodness. Whilst in the marina, we looked at the quayside wall and we saw an octopus moving along the water line. This was the first time that we had ever seen an octopus on the move! Apparently, you can moor against a small part of the commercial harbour for free but the quay is very high and there were not many places that we felt we wanted to attach ourselves to as it really is designed for large ships and ferries, not little sailing boats like us.

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Who: Chris & Sandra Mennem
Port: Shotley, UK
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