06/30/2012, Vernazza, Cinqueterre, Italy
Genova is the pivotal centre of the Ligurian Sea (and by far the largest city in the Italian riviera). It is an ancient town and a very large commercial port, but we entered it without a lot of confidence that Trilogy would be there for long. Continuing our lucky streak we were allocated a berth in Porto Antico right in the heart of the old town - any closer and we would have been berthed on the road which separated the port from the town.
The city was part of the Roman empire (when its was sacked during the Carthaginain wars) but really started to hit its straps from about 1000AD. By the 1500s the Republic of Genova reached its peak with rich traders, bankers who financed the Spanish empire and navigators and explorers such as Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus who extended Genovese influence beyond the the Med.
Genova was at the forefront of the Renaissance and the result can still be seen today in the art works, palazzos, churches and piazzas in the city. Genova turned out to be a suprising gem. Big, grimy in parts like all commercial ports, but fabulous in others.
While we didn't have all that much time to explore the whole city a concerted effort (in the heat) saw us collectively visit the maritime museum and walk through the old town (now inhabited largely by north Africans), and the next day individually visit different parts of the city. The maritime museum gave a wonderful account especially through artwork of the huge ship building heritage of the ancient port and the mighty battles that were staged in the Genova waters using canons.
Individual highlights were the Rolli palaces (a whole street of palazzos which Rubens drew and mapped and took back to Antwerp as an example of the best town planning in Europe in the 16 and 17 century); Piazza de Ferrari; the oriental markets; the redevelopment of the old harbour by Renzo Piano; the Cathedral San Annuziata del Vastatao (with its Rennaissance paintings, including a Rubens altar decoratation) , Christopher Columbus' family home and the Palazzo Spinoli (with its extraordinary living quarters and art works including Rubens and Van Dyke).
We also managed to find some excellent restaurants at fair prices serving Genovese dishes, including a restauranter who had served the Popes. A pleasant change from the tourist oriented menus (and prices) we had started to encounter on the Italian Riviera.
Genova isn't usually on the Med cruisers list of "must do's" but were surprised at the rich exploration possibilities. We left Genova with only a little of it explored, and lots left for another time.
06/27/2012, Varazze, Italy
At the end of a wonderful night of Italian hospitality at the Beneteau regatta party, our host Alessio made a special parting gift to us Aussie imports. Alessio spoke good English and advised us that he had spent some 9 months in Brisbane. We immediately felt understood!
Alessio said earlier in the evening that we were not to leave without a special gift. At this stage we thought the presentations were to be made that night and had imagined that we might be in the running for a prize. The trophies, glassware and ceramic plates were all on display to admire. We noticed basil adorning the walls of the venue, donated by one of the sponsors, and couldn't help but notice the high quality of the basil and with some envy, we reflected on the difficulties we have in Canberra to produce such lush green fragrant sweet basil.
True to his word, Alessio approached us as we were departing and presented not one, but two, pots of basil for Trilogy. Alessio was absolutely passionate about the regional quality of the basil, and that it was THE best basil in the world, due to the particular climatic conditions in Varazze. He advised the plants would love salt water spray and so long as there was sufficient light, the plants would flourish.
So... Trilogy had two new companions, nicknamed Basil and Sybil. Having got them home safely, there was deep discussion about where these new companions were to sleep, after all the cabins were all occupied, except for a spare berth while Myra is absent. Ultimately it was agreed that Basil and Sybil were to stay in the cockpit under the dodger while in port and travel in the shower recess when at sea. I have to report Basil and Sybil have found sneaky ways of getting below at other times, away from the heat.
The upshot is that we have flourishing basil in many of our home prepared meals. It is truly delicious, aromatic and comforting to eat. I am inclined to believe Alessio's claim.
06/25/2012, Varazze, Italy
Over the 23rd and 24th of June, Trilogy competed in the Beneteau Cup Banks Sails Regatta in the Mediterranean waters off Varazze on the Italian Riviera. Under the banner of the Canberra Ocean Racing Club, Trilogy won the Beneteau Cup defeating all the Beneteau yachts in the race and also took out third place over all the boats in the race.
This was a remarkable achievement given that Trilogy was heavily weighed down with fuel, water, dinghy on the foredeck, outboard on the transom and 150 metres of chain. We also kept the bimini and dodger up to keep the cruising appearance and protect us from the blazing sun. Despite the winds being very light and variable, Trilogy managed to sail away from her own division and sail through half of the division that had started 10 minutes earlier.
This was Trilogy's first race since its launch in March this year. When we tested a Beneteau Oceanis 54 on Sydney harbour last year we were all amazed at how well she sailed even in light winds. However you never know how good a boat is until you race against a very competitive fleet. We were all ecstatic to confirm that Trilogy is a magnificent sailing boat that will carry us swiftly and safely back to Australia when we set off in three years time.
We would like to thank our hosts from Beneteau, in particular Marco and Alessio for their generosity and hospitality. The friendship offered by all the competitors was greatly appreciated.
06/21/2012, Alassio, Porto Luca Ferrari
We departed San Remo in full sunshine for a motor sail that followed the Italian coast passing green mountainous terrain that met the Mediterranean. It was a very pleasant sail as after the maintenance work done in Antibes, Trilogy is now performing well and the scenery very interesting. Scattered along the coast were small towns (all with a towering steeples) and terracotta tinted hilltop medieval villages, towering viaducts for road transport, a train line that followed the contour of the waters edge and on many terraced cliffs there are large hot houses. We have read that this area produces most of the flowers for Italy.
Trilogy was set on a course for Imperia which is relatively a new town, resulting from the 1923 unification of Port Maurizio and Oneglia. Maurizio was very stylish with beaches, excellent restaurants and complete with an old town and cathedral. Oneglia, on the other hand, had a industrial feel and was known for pasta and olive oil production. The marina and was located between the two towns.
As we approached the headland of Imperia, the old town looked inviting with pastel coloured houses clustered on the promontory. The cathedral towering above old town with beach umbrellas and bathers on the beaches.
The marina at Imperia was new and had many areas unfinished, however, the work that had been completed was impressive, although, a recording of an osprey feeding her chicks bellowing out of a loudspeaker every 15 minutes was slightly annoying. We imagined its purpose was to keep the seagulls away. The marina staff were very helpful and maybe trying to justify the highest marina fees we had paid to date.
During our journey we have noted that Sundays are a day for families to have lunch in a restaurant, trattorias or pizzerias. So the crew has adopted this European ritual, and when possible, we do lunch out on a Sunday too. We worked up an appetite by first exploring the old town before deciding on where we would dine. The old town was built with a maze of ancient houses, alleys, covered passageways, silent little squares, flights of steps and arches. It was interesting watching the women hang out their washing (from their windows or balcony) to dry above the pedestrians below.
The Basilica di San Maurizio dominated the old town, however it was only one of 5 impressive churches to be seen during the day. On the waterfront was a very sweet church with fluted marble columns with intricate vaulted arches. Late in the afternoon members of the congregation dressed in various maritime uniforms accompanied a wreath out to sea, to offer it to St Anthony, the saint of the church.
Overlooking the cliff face in the old town was the Convent of Santa Chiara. It was founded in 15th century as a convent for the daughters of the local aristocracy. Later it was opened to the Order of St Francis, and from then on the nuns of the Order of St. Clare have been been living there in strict enclosure. During the day, I attended a service in this church, which was conducted by the nuns and the singing was magnificent.
The church of San Leonardo was founded in the14th century. Under the church there is a small room in which one of the first hospitals for women in Italy was opened in the 16th century.
While descending the many flights of stairs to get to the beach, I came across a small fortified door inserted into the old city wall. This doorway (circa 1560) was apparently for use in case of emergency to reach the harbour below.
As an Aussie it is hard to accept that bathers are asked to pay a fee to enter most beaches. If you wanted to sit near the water you paid 11euros for a cabin, 2.70 euros for an umbrella and 15.40 euros for two reclining chairs. That is approx $45 for a couple to have a day at the beach! The fee was reduced the further away from the water your reclining chair was located. However, despite the fee, the way the beach was set up, complete with garden furniture, coffee table, full length mirrors and pot plants, made it look like a comfortable way to enjoy a day at the beach.
On Monday, we sailed on to Alassio, but before we entered the marina we visited the Isolotto Gallinara for a swim off the back of Trilogy. This small private island is about 3 kilometres from Alassio and has a church, a castle and a tiny harbour. It is now a nature park and the swim in the sapphire blue water, along with the sea birds, made us feel as if we were in a remote part of the Italian Riviera.
Alassio is the location we plan to meet up with Garth and Ros and we are are looking forward to their company for the next 5 weeks.
06/16/2012, San Remo,Italy
We bid a fond farewell to Menton and motor sailed along the picturesque coastline taking care to exchange the French for Italian courtesy flag as we crossed into Italian waters. We were also careful to observe the correct procedures as we were exporting Trilogy from France and wanted to be sure we were not breaching the regulations in any way.
So as we approached San Remo we called the harbour master on the radio to arrange for a berth and mentioned that we were an Australian registered sailing yacht seeking customs and immigration clearance. The confusion began when the Portosole harbour master advised that we must go to the old port where the Customs authorities were located. The next call to the old port received the response that we could not come into the port but must go to Portosole and then walk around to Customs.
With our yellow Q flag flying we berthed and walked around to Customs to be told that we should be speaking with the Coast Guard. The next hour and a half was spent with three less than efficient coast guard officers while they made multiple phone calls, consulted several manuals and then called in a more senior officer.
It came as a small surprise to learn that we needed two duty stamps and we were directed to the local tobacconist shop with a handwritten note from the Coast Guard explaining what we needed. Armed with the two 14 Euro stamps and back at the Coast Guard we were then provided with a folder titled 'Costituto In Arrivo Per Il Naviglo Da Diporto' which contains photo copies of our ship's papers, passports and visas. I take this to be a transit log that we must keep for when we depart from Italian waters.
We have given up on trying to get our passports stamped after three attempts.
It also turns out that San Remo is hosting a very big sailing regatta - the 60th Anniversary Giraglia Rolex Cup - so we have been treated to the latest racing yachts ranging from the super maxi 'Alfa Romeo', now owned by a Slovenian, a maxi from Saint Petersburg, TP 52s and Swan 43s and everything in between. Friday 15th is the last day with prize giving at the San Remo Yacht Club. We were also treated to a major fireworks display which would rival our New Year's Eve celebrations in Australia.
The old town part of San Remo dates back to the Middle Ages and seems to be built like a maze of very small alley ways to confuse the barbarian pirates that hassled the region. Many buildings span these alleys to form tunnels that are so dark they need artificial light during the day.
There is also a quaint Russian orthodox church (San Basilio) which has distinctive onion shaped domes similar to it's namesake in Moscow. It was built in 1912 by Russian nobles who holidayed in San Remo before the World War.
Along the waterfront is a dedicated bicycle road that follows the original route of the coastal railway much like the rail trails in Victoria.
06/12/2012, Menton, France
Although the locals are complaining that summer is late coming, its not being reflected by the large number of boats starting to zip in and out of the marinas, competing for increasingly scarce visitors berths. After our Antibes experience we decided to start calling ahead to book a berth. Our plan, after leaving Antibes, was to ease our way to the Italian border by overnighting at Villefranche, Monaco and Menton (where we planned to clear out of France) before crossing into Italy and clearing in at San Remo.
In the event Villefranche was full, as was the marina just out side Monaco. And we were too small for Monaco itself. So we settled for an overnight stay at Beaulieu and quick cruise around the Port of Monaco enroute to Menton. Monaco from the sea looks like a rather ugly concrete jungle, but the vessels in the port were beautiful. (Susan subsequently caught the bus back to do a nostalgia return and said Monaco was much more attractive from the land.)
Our arrival in Menton was marked by the arrival of customs officials who seemed to be under the impression we had just arrived from Australia. Quick clarification and checking of our boat's papers, that we had no cigarettes or alcohol (or not much) and less than Eu10000 in cash (as if) - everything ok and they departed with apologies about the lousy summer weather!
Menton itself is a charming Italian looking (and feeling) village right on the French/Italian border. The border itself is about a kilometre from the marina - we will pass into Italy while hoisting our sails as we leave Menton. The cuisine is Italian but menus are in French - with "provencale" tacked on for cover. French and Italian are heard equally and the road signs are in both languages.
Menton has been inhabited since the paleolithic period and is the site of the "Grimaldi Man" find of modern early humans. It has been Roman and part of the Principality of Monaco, the Republic of Genoa and then later the Kingdom of Sardinia before electing in an 1860's plebescite to be French (apparently much to Garibaldi's disgust).
It was popularised by the Brits and Russians in the Victorian and Edwardian era (and still has hotels such as the Royal Westminster, Balmoral, Regency and Victoria along the waterfront). It is now mainly famous for a number of large gardens established during the Victorian period but recently staked another claim- a very large and impressive museum celebrating the life and work of the French poet, writer, artist, dramatist and film maker Jean Cocteau which opened in late 2011.
Our departure for Italy has been delayed by strong south westerlies (feels like a strong Perth sea breeze) which started to blow as we arrived and hasn't eased much for two days. But when it does we are off to San Remo (about 12 miles away) to clear into Italy.