18/09/2008, Medina (the Old City), Tunis, Tunisia
Ooh, What a Day
Saturday in Tunisia...what to do? Aah, a little retail therapy perhaps. Said, our driver for the day, picked us up around 11 and as he drove us into Tunis, pointed out the buildings and monuments in half French-half English. We walked the main street, a very European influenced Avenue de France, lined with embassies, hotels and a very large cathedral. Who knew two popes were born in Tunisia and another one's family originated from here? The streets were packed with locals shopping and wandering but not eating. It is Ramadan and from sun up to sun down, neither food nor water shall pass the lips of a Muslim.
As soon as we crossed through the archway of the medina (old walled town around the Mosque) we were in retail heaven. The narrow alleys lead us into the souks where different alleys or sections were dedicated to different wares - clothing, jewellery, leather, ceramics. We had been warned about the aggressive vendors and that bargaining was expected. We had a field day bargaining for wooden bowls (yes Karen, Em and Kate, I finally got my olive wood bowls), dishes, framed scorpians, camel bone bracelets, and necklaces. Each vendor tried a different tactic, but we stuck to our guns, walked away, returned when called or chased, offered a new price and finally settling on something we both felt fair. Said would interject every now and then, in Arabic, sometimes early in the negotiation with a look and short expression that, even not knowing Arabic, you knew meant, "way too much". Sometimes he sided with the vendors and picked out pretty items, taught us about their religious or ceremonial meaning and tried to get us to buy.
Said remained by our side throughout the day except for a 45 minute break midday when he left us in a tiny café while he went for prayer at the Mosque. We plunked ourselves down amongst what could only be tourists for no locals would dare be eating and ordered coffees, tea avec menthe (served with pinenuts floating on top) juice and sandwiches. We watched the souks empty except for a lone shopkeeper who stayed back while all the Muslims went for prayer. Said returned at 2:45 and after a few more souks, he met up with another 'guide' who led us to the government house. A fellow Canadian we met in Rome had warned me about this approach, whereby they hand you off to friends or brothers who eventually lead you to a carpet shop. It turns out that "this was the Government House, formally the King's Palace and now home to the most exquisite carpet 'museum' only open one week a year and this was the last day of the week, but first you come up and see the view". Peering over Tunis we could see the different mosques, the whitewashed buildings, the hundreds of satellite dishes and loads of garbage on the roofs. After sitting on the King's bed and making a wish, we were lead into a room filled with the most beautiful carpets, but after explaining we live on a boat and have no home, they shewed us out the door.
It was closing on 5pm and Said wanted us to return to Sidi Bou Said, as the evening was approaching and he wished to return to his family for dinner. We hurried through the souks as some vendors closed for the day only to be replaced with food stalls selling pastries and desserts for the evening. We sampled a few but didn't take to the almond, honey and fig treats.
As we drove back to Sidi we passed a pick-up truck with a goat in the back - an offering from the bride's father to the prospective groom. (John, you should have held out for at least a goat from Bill!).
We ran from the car back to the boat in the torrential rain - the first we had seen in months since Barcelona. Pulling our wares out of backpacks and bags, we displayed all our goods and spent the next hour retelling the bargaining stories behind each item - from the 2 toothed jewellery vendor to the guy who asked "30 dinar for 1, 2 for 75" and then sheepishly shrugged his shoulders when John pointed out his flawed math, to the man who asked John how many wives to the vendors yelling "John, hey Canada" as I tried to find him amidst the crowds.
17/09/2008, Sicily and Malta
The following blogs are slightly out of chronological order and occurred prior to our arrival in Tunisia.
Sailing out of Riposto, we made our way in the evening sun to what we thought would be our last stop in Italy. Under Johnnie's watch we navigated the coastline and anchored perfectly at midnight in the harbour of Siracusa on the southern tip of Sicily. The next morning a Lagoon 420 anchored close by and John, who doubles as Social Director, dinghied over to greet John and Gillian, a couple from Australia who had picked up their Cat in France and were making their way slowly back to Oz.
After a quick chat, the crew of Windancer dinghied into Siracusa where for the first time in Italy we experienced the locals' market lined with vegetable, fruit, spice, cheese, meet and fish stalls. The fish vendors were the liveliest hawking their fresh catch upon tables laden with fish, mussels, squid, octopus and swordfish whose heads were proudly on display. At the end of the market was a beautiful wine, cheese and meat shop where we sampled all our goods before buying and walked out with delicious cheeses, salami and a few bottles of wine. Our only regret was that we didn't know how good one of those bottles of wine was, for had we known then, what we now we would have bought a case. (We shared it a few days later in Malta with some other sailors and fell instantly in love - velvety smooth and rich. And in case you are wondering, what is it called, that too is a mystery for we tossed the bottle.)
That evening in Siracusa we had dinner with John and Gillian at a local restaurant famous for its spaghetti. Dinner was slightly delayed as our Australian friends had to return to the boat for Gillian to change after she fell in the harbour while navigating her way out of the dinghy - the 5th time in three months!!! And the kids think I have a tough time getting in and out of the dinghy. We couldn't leave Italy without one last visit to the gelateria where the kids dined on a local favourite - brioche con gelato, a puff pastry filled with your ice cream of choice.
That night we bid our friends goodbye and set sail for an overnighter to Malta in calm seas and wind.
As you sail into Malta, you get the feeling you have just come across the largest sandcastle in the world. The capital Valletta juts out from Grand Harbour and her sandy coloured buildings blend together into a blur of beige. We arrived on Sunday, September 7th, a national holiday in Malta commemorating their battles in WWII. Everything was closed and while John went exploring in St Julians, a small tourist town, the kids and I swam until Jenny fell victim to a jellyfish sting. There we were peacefully swimming in the refreshing waters until Jenny's ear piercing scream broke the silence "OWWWW, something bit me!" We swam quickly back to the boat, applied afterbite and a special ointment and after 30 minutes the pain dissipated leaving a perfectly circular silver-dollar sized mark which lingered for the next few days as a reminder of those nasty beasts.
That night, the local pyrotechnics team set off their fireworks a mere 100 feet from our boat. We had watched them get ready during the day, but had not been told to move our anchorage. With Jim and Geb, a young English couple just returning from a three year circumnavigation, aboard we shared that delicious bottle of wine and watched the festivities amidst the deafening roar of the show. It was only towards the finale that we got a bit worried as some of the final rockets shot sideways and sprinkled over Windancer.
Monday, as it turns out, was also a holiday, so we gathered up all our pool gear, dinghied to the local hotel, plunked ourselves into a few loungers and dove into the refreshing pool. Craving freshwater, we were shocked and somewhat disappointed to discover the pool was salt water. All was not lost though, for the indoor pool was fresh water and after lunch we discovered two free computers with unlimited internet access where John and I spent most of the day catching up, checking email, blogs and world news.
Tuesday, Malta was 'open' and we jumped the local bus and headed to Valletta, a 30 minute ride. The buses of Malta are famous, vintage 1950s yellow lories with rounded front ends and no air conditioning. (Note to self - pay attention to the locals for there is a reason they all carry fans. It was brutally hot on the bus and we couldn't wait to get off in the central bus terminal outside the main gates of Valetta.) We wandered down Republic Street, the main thoroughfare and a rather disappointing touristy haven lined with tacky shops and clothing retailers. There were a few gems though - English bookstores and a Mcdonalds where we treated the kids to lunch. We continued to wander the town and after passing the nondescript entrance, made our way to St. John's Co Cathedral.
One of the few churches to charge admission we paid our entrance fee, received our individual audio taped tours and I donned the polyester scarf for my shoulders and wrap skirt to cover my knees. The contrast between the drab sandy exterior and interior took our collective breath away. There wasn't a square inch of floor, wall or ceiling not adorned with sculptures, carvings, inlaid marble or frescoes. We journeyed from station to station listening to the narrative of this remarkable church. The following is from the visitor's guide:
"St. John's Co-Cathedral is a unique monument of international importance. It owes its rich history and artistic heritage to the fact that for over 200 years it was the conventional church of the Order of the Knights of St John. The Grand Masters and Knights donated gifts of high artistic value and made enormous contributions to enrich it with only the best works of art by leading artists available to them. As a result it is a most glorious ad magnificent artistic expression of the High Baroque era. The Knights were noblemen from the most important families of Europe and they had a mission - that is to protect the Catholic faith and Europe from the attacks of the Ottoman Turks. After the attach known as the Great Siege in 1565 it seems that the Knights vowed to turn Malta into a fortress that befitted a military Order with a capital city worthy of so illustrious a group of noblemen. Pride of place in the centre of the new city Valletta was reserved for their Church. The building was completed in 1577 and dedicated to St John the Baptists, the patron saint of the Order.
The plain façade flanked by two large bell towers is sever and has the character of a fortress reflecting the sober mood of the Order after the Great Siege. In the 17th century, the Grand Masters ordered the redecoration of the interior ushering in the dawn of the Baroque style and its flamboyant character. Under the Calabrain artist Mattia Preti, the naves were decorated to honour the Grand Masters and the walls were carved with elaborate motifs characteristic of Baroque ornamentation transforming the walls into a riot of gilded foliage, flowers and angels."
Back to me: the two sections of the church we loved the most were the inlaid floors and the Oratory housing the paitings of the renowned artist Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio. The floor throught the cathedral consisting of a collection of tombstones. They reveal the stories of important knights, their acts of chivalry, religious fervour and their desire to be remembered. In the Oratory, the largest painting eer done by Caravaggio and the only piece signed (in the blood of the slain St. John) hangs above the altar. The Beheading of St John the Baptist is remarkable in its harsh reality and chiaroscioro technique (the use of light and shadows) that makes it almost look like a photograph. Other treasures in the cathedral included a room of tapestries on the cartoons of Flemish artish Rubens.
We must have spent over two hours in the cathedral and the entrance fee was worth every penny. We couldn't get over the amazing contrast between the plain exterior and over-the-top ornate interior. (I encourage you to google both the cathedral and Caravaggio for examples of the beauty.)
We continued to explore the old city and headed down to the harbour where we picked up an authentic Hard Rock Malta t-shirt (we thought it was a rather cool one to own, couldn't be that many people who have been there, but then, in Connor's twisted thinking, he did think the Hard Rock Vatican City would be cooler!!)
Returning to the boat via the still boiling bus, John and Connor got off in the main town to pick up boat parts while Jenny and I returned to the boat. We joined Jim and Geb for a drink on their boat that night and then next day, after a bit of parts and food provisioning and saying good bye to our sailing mates (including the Australian couple who had just anchored in the same bay), we set sail in the evening. We headed away from Europe and made our way to Africa!
07/09/2008, Marina de Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
Note: we are a few cities back in our updates and will be posting Syracuse and Malta in the next week. While it is fresh in my mind, I wanted to share an evening in Tunisia.
We sailed from Malta on the evening of September 10th and had a relatively quiet 36 hour passage (ie motoring) with the exception of a six hour spurt on the night of the 11th when we picked up some wind, shut down the motors and sailed for the first time in weeks. Did we mention, that besides the heat, there is no wind in the Med?
Arrived in Tunisia into a small port town, Sidi Bou Said, about 10 km up the coast from Tunis. With no space in the marina we docked side-to at the fuel dock and shortly thereafter a 38ft monohull rafted along side us. The pace in Tunisia is very slow; the gas station operator was sleeping in his 'office' and if you really needed him, you could knock on the window and wake him up. After a rather lengthy check in process during which John had to explain in broken French what I did for a living, John and the kids returned to the boat with a customs official in hand who boarded the boat (a first for us) and looked around and, using hand signals, inquired if we had any weapons on board.
Jenny and Connor played with the countless kittens hiding in octopus pots along the dock. Tempting, but we are still holding out on taking one on board.
With the official check in behind us, John and I switched on the generator, fired up the air conditioning and went back to sleep to catch up on the watch schedule confusion our bodies always suffer. Later in the day, the four of us took a taxi into the Sidi Bou Said, a very small touristy town lined with white buildings, blue shuttered windows and colourful doors. We wandered the market and very quickly experienced the friendly harassment of Tunisian vendors. Here is a typical conversation:
"Hello, where you from?"
"Ah, Canada, you capitalists? What do you like?"
[I pick up an olive wood salad bowl - I have been searching for them for ages and am looking forward to striking a deal in Africa]
"How much you want to pay?'
"How much is it?"
"How much you want to pay? Dinar or Euro?"
"Tell me lady, how much you want to pay?" [Takes my arm and guides me further into his store]
"I don't want it. It is too much."
"Lady, I make you a good deal. Buy two."
"No, I am not interested"
"Lady, it is the end of the day, I shut down, not eaten all day [ooops, forgot to mention, we arrived during Ramadan], I make you good deal."
[We walk away slowly; he follows]
"Lady, tell me, how much you pay? 70? Okay for you, 60, 50...."
And so it goes, in each stall, each store, each item. We have spied some lovely dishes we like and a chess board for Connor, but we are saving ourselves for Tunis.
After the market we hop a cab to the Carrefour, a large grocery/department store (like Loblaws or Real Canadian Superstore) and do some provisioning. The store is buzzing, as it the hour leading up to sundown, and the locals are stocking up on food for their evening feast. While John starts with groceries, I head into the department store looking for acrylic wine glasses and sunscreen. I cannot find either and suddenly, smile to myself as I remind myself we are in a Muslim country where drinking is forbidden and sunscreen is not required (as we glimpsed earlier in the day as women waded into the waters off the beach fully clothed from head to toe). I find John and the kids standing at the bakery counter anxiously awaiting the fresh baguettes. The baker drops the first dozen from the rack - steaming hot, we scoop up two. In a matter of minutes, 12 dozen baguettes disappear in the hands of the shoppers. (The kids, hungry and unfed, quickly demolish them and after we pick up the rest of our groceries, we line up for two more baguettes.)
We also picked up a chocolate cake to celebrate our 100 days aboard Windancer as a family.
As we exit Carrefour, we inquire about a taxi to which the locals roll their eyes and reply, "One hour, it is time to eat." Well, nothing we can do about it, so we reenter the mall, sit down, pull out our roast chicken and devour it followed by icecream. If you cant beat 'em, might as well join em.
After about 30 minutes, a taxi arrives interrupting John's trip to the Asia Food stall in the food court where hundreds of Carrefour employees line up to have dinner. Returning to Windancer, the Austrian couple rafted alongside invite us over for a drink. We convince them to join us in our salon amidst the air conditioning and were sharing a late bite (George's homemade bread and real parmesan from Parma) and a few bottles of wine. Our evening was briefly interrupted when the wind suddenly whipped up and the lightening lit up the skies. Pushed into the cement fuel dock, we quickly reset the lines, added a few more lines and fenders and, after stowing some cushions, returned to another bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
05/09/2008, Riposto, Sicily, Italy
After two and a half exhausting days in Rome, we left the port around 5 in the evening and set out for an overnighter to Capri on the Malfi coast. We had intended to leave a little earlier, but we had run into a couple from Oakville in the marina who had set sail a year ago from Toronto as part of a three year journey. Pretty small world - here we are in a 900 slip marina and we dock three berths down from John and Roberta. After sharing sailing stories (they had come from Malta and Tunisia), we headed out into a beautiful peaceful night.
We came across Capri mid day on September 2nd and anchored on the north coast outside of some grottos famous in the days of the Roman emperors who created nymphariums (your guess is as good as mine as to what took place there). We sailed past the famous Blue Grotto and anchored outside of the Capri marina. Jenny and I dinghied ashore and took the funicular (a sideways cable car) up to the top of the town where we wandered the streets and window shopped for that is all you can do in a town laden with every boutique you can imagine. The whitewashed buildings lined with bouganvillia reminded me of St Barts (okay, sorry about the name dropping, but if any of you have been there, you would get the picture).
The next morning our Captain got us underway very early for John had planned a brilliantly timed 32 hour crossing that took us past Stromboli at 2 am. We woke the kids and from a mile or two out we watched the glowing tip of the volcano spew lava every fifteen minutes. As an active volcano, Stromboli burps constantly and the people of Stromboli go about their day to day activities without fear of a major eruption.
That afternoon we entered Marina d'Etna in the town of Riposto on Sicily. Riposto itself is rather unattractive with crumbling buildings and pothole riddled streets and as we were in Sicily for the first time, we couldn't help but imagine the Costra Nostra gathered around checkered table clothes in the backs of bars discussing Luigi's business ventures and Mario dating cousin Maria. We saw none of the Mafia and while the government and tourism will tell you they aren't a problem, the locals will tell you they are just a part of life; in fact, the entire Italian economy is founded on white money (legitimate, taxable income) and black money (a cash society) and we were warned the further south you went, the more you needed cash and credit cards were virtually non existent.
After a lovely dinner of calzione, pizza diavolo, cozze (muscles) and pistachio pesto pasta and a litre of local wine, we retired early to get ready for our adventure up Etna the next morning. For the second time in a week we set our alarm, had a quick breakfast, packed up our warm clothing (as it can get cool at the top of the volcano) and bathing suits (for swims in the Alcantara valley river). We were picked up in a Land Rover Defender and greeted by our tri-lingual guide, Marcello. With another couple in tow we started out of Riposto through the tiny towns heading towards Mt Etna, Europe's largest active volcano. It covers approximately 1250 square km and reaches a height of 3350ft above sea level. We stopped briefly so Marcello could put the jeep in 4X4 and started along the "Land Rover Highway" where we bumped and rolled and jarred our way up the hill. Along the way, we stopped a few times to walk up trails and see the lush lava valleys around Etna covered in citrus groves, vineyards, and pine forests reminiscent of BC's Stanley Park. Unable to go to the top of Etna, we walked along a trail to one of the many surrounding extinct craters. Along the trails you could pick up lava rock sparkling with reds, blues, gold and silver minerals. We continued to a cave that dropped down 8 metres and extended 200 metres underground. If you sat quietly, you could drop a stone down the cave and hear as it bounced along the walls to the bottom.
From the craters of Etna we drove through the Alcantara Valley to a bed and breakfast where we stopped for lunch. We had booked a ploughman's lunch (bread with salami, cheese wine and antipasto) whereas the other couple had booked the full lunch. So, while they ate inside we were banished to the outdoor terrace and served a lovely lunch on plastic dishes and cutlery and visited by the local cats from the farm. Due to our smaller lunch, we were finished early and asked permission to swim in the B&B's pool - the first time in a freshwater pool in over 3 months. We all agreed we would gladly trade the indoor lunch for the refreshing dip.
After lunch we drove to the Alcantara River and hiked down to the creek of freeeeezing waters. We watched as tourists floated downstream dressed in full wetsuits, helmuts and harnesses. Not so for the hardy Canadians (well all of them except Ziggy who could make it waist deep but not much further). John, Connor and Jenny waded upstream with Jenny climbing higher and higher on John's back to stay out of the water. Clad only in bathing suits the trio ventured further upstream to a set of rapids, hiked over the rocks and then shot the rapids back towards the pond where Ziggy stood, once again shaking her head as her two, no make that three, kids fooled around and frolicked in the waters.
We drove back to Riposto, said goodbye to Marcello and set sail for an overnighter to Syracusa on the southern Sicilian coast.
04/09/2008, Rome, Italy
Rome wasn't built in a day and you can't really see it in less than a year (to do it justice), but if you only had two days, here are some things to note:
1. Pick your spots. We perused a tourist map and chose to see: the Vatican, Vatican Museum, Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Forum, Spanish Steps and Pantheon. Lots to see in two days, but we made it happen seeing all but the Vatican & Museum on the first day. The subways are great - only 2 lines A and B. As Connor noted, they only have 2 lines as every time they excavate a new area, they stumble across the remnants of history and turn the subway line into an archeological dig.
2. If you have to see a lot in a few days, take tours. After our visit to the Coliseum, we crossed the street to the Palatine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. Originally where Romulus settled, the hill became the home to the emperors and as each emperor ruled, they extended their territory. Nero, a bit of an egomaniac, extended it through half of what is modern day Rome, by burning the homes of the citizens and rebuilding it to meet his crazy version of an emperor's life. (To give you a little history, Rome was named after Romulus, who with his twin brother, was set afloat down the river Tiber and picked up along the shore by a wolf - or what translates also as prostitute, but the Italians prefer wolf. Rescued by the wolves, but raised by a local family, it was later discovered that Romulus and Remus were the children of emperors. Romulus occupied the Palatine hill, Remus another hill, and like typical brothers they fought over whom the city should be named after. But that really didn't matter, since Romulus had his brother killed and thus ended the argument.)
3. The quality of the tour guide makes a huge difference - our first guide, Roberto, added humour into our tour of the Coliseum, but lacked some of the nuances of the English native tongue, although he did a wonderful job correcting my pronunciation of Michaelangelo (not pronounced like Michael Jackson, I was told, but Meekelangelo). Anthony from New Zealand took us through the Palatine Hill and filled our ears with his passion for Roman history and architecture. We stood on the throne where citizens came before the reigning emperor to ask a question to which they did not know the answer, which ranged from yes to death and somewhere in between. We saw the site commemorating Romulus as the early emperor and saw the home of Augustine which had just opened months before.
4. Wish for rain when you visit the Pantheon, a pagan temple commissioned in 27BC and rebuilt after a fire in 117 and 125AD. Atop the rotunda is an opening, the eye, and when it rains the people of Rome flock to it so watch the water wash over the 2000 year old marble floors and drain through the holes in the floor. It was a remarkable site.
5. Have coins ready when you get to the Trevi Fountain for legend has it if you throw a coin and drink from its water, you will return to Rome. Most tourists throw in 10-20 cents and in the course of a day, they collect $3000EU donated to help the homeless. Neptune sits atop the fountain and below him the settled and rough oceans sit below.
6. Set an alarm and get there early. For the first time on our trip we set an alarm - who knew other than Connor that you can set an alarm on an ipod? We left the boat at 6am, took a bus, a train and 2 subways to the Vatican. Upon arriving to meet a tour group we set our eyes on the line forming outside of the Museum, for on the last Sunday of every month the entrance to the Vatican Museum is free and over 100,000 people lined up to see THE most famous site, the Sistine Chapel. As much as we wanted to spend time with our guide Anthony, we couldn't imagine lining up for 2 hours. So, we sent John on a rekkie (recognizance trip) upon which he was invited to join a tour a mere 100 feet from the beginning of the 5000 person line up and pay 25EU for the adults/free for the kids for a tour of the museum. Our jaded souls told us this couldn't be true, but we decided to risk it and were greatly rewarded. Our tour guide, Jim, from Grand Rapids Michigan was a theology and art history major who had lived in Rome for over 4 years and toured the Vatican and Museum over 800 times and he made every moment worth it, mixing art with history, religion, mythology, architecture, politics and archeology. It was fabulous.
7. Be prepared to be awed. The Vatican Museum houses over 11,000 pieces and is overwhelming. Jim took us outside, sat us in a plaza and told us the history behind why the Vatican is where it is, the significance behind St Peters Square obelisk (where Peter is buried) and a little about the actual principality of the Vatican, the smallest in the world behind Monaco and Lichtenstein. The Vatican has its own EU currency and postage system as well as an army, the famous Swiss Guard. Each year 120 new guards are picked from the applicants who must: be Swiss, between the ages of 18-25, speak five languages, Roman Catholic and have completed military service and then receive special training. Don't let those funny looking clown costumes fool you! Jim delighted us in the stories behind Michaelangelo receiving the commission to complete the ceiling. His rivals at the time felt threatened by his skill and arrogance and one, upon being asked by the Pope to paint the ceiling and figuring out it would take a team of artists over 10 years to complete the vaulted ceiling, (politely) declined but suggested Michaelangelo to get him out of the competitive art scene. Turns out Michaelangelo didn't even consider himself a painter and considered carving marble sculptures the true work of artists. In fact he had never even painted in the frescoe style before starting the ceiling. He was asked to paint saints on the ceiling, but after starting and in frustration, destroying his first attempt, struck a bargain with Pope Julius II - "I'll paint it if you let me choose the subject matter and promise I will be free upon my completion to return to what I love, marble sculptures. Deal." He worked alone for 4 years, building the scaffolding, lugging the materials up to the top and contorting himself into a twisted figure, began what is truly perfection. In the frescoe style which requires working with wet plaster he only completed about an 8X8 inch section a day and for days would remain on the top of the scaffolding, sleeping atop. We took time to revel in the beauty of the most famous section - the creation of man, the famous finger of god reaching out to Adam. [By the way, it appears that there is something anatomically incorrect about Adam in Michaelangelo's rendition - can you figure it out? (Connor could, the first visitor in over 6 months to get it right, but go figure that Cliffy Claven stats boy would know!). Submit your answers in the comment section and, Steve Southwood, no googling the answers.]
8. Be prepared not to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, not for the seemingly obvious reasons that pictures can damage the frescoes, but as a result of a rights agreement between the Vatican and Nippon, the Japanese company who paid for the restoration of the ceiling. Nippon didn't know quite what it would take when the restoration started in 1980; heck if takes 4 years to paint, how long would it take to clean it up? Well, hundreds of people, 10 years and $180 million. In return, Nippon asked for rights to all photos and souvenirs for 50 years.
9. Dress appropriately to enter the Vatican - shoulders covered and no short shorts. In the largest church in the world, you could spend days viewing the art works (it took 80 years to finish the interior). As it was a Sunday, mass was being said and we were told that the Pope was in Rome and would bless the crowds in St Peters Square at noon. Seems it was a rumour for he was still hanging at his summer home in Castel Gondolfo, but through modern technology, they brought him to the square broadcast on giant flat screen TVs. John and the kids climbed to the top of St Peters basilica, the highest point in Rome today and for ever, for Rome has agreed there will never be a taller building in the city. They took an elevator up half way, walked the remaining 320 steps up viewing the city and trecked the 551 steps down.
We finished our day taking a bus (as the subway was out of order) and suffered the crowds and heat. They aren't kidding when they say it is crowded in August and, once again, it was soooooo hot. We returned to Windancer hot, tired and thoroughly awed by the beauty and wonders of Rome. You can't turn a corner without stumbling across another marvel. Thank goodness we threw those coins into the Trevi Fountain, since the city is beckoning for us to return.
03/09/2008, Rome, Italy
In Rome there are 2 subway lines, A and B. Why are there only 2 subway lines for such a huge city? Because of history, there is so much in Roma that it is piling up, literally! The older the history is, the deeper the artifacts are buried. When the city of Rome's government go to dig tunnels they stumble upon something, a statue of an emperor, a bathtub made of an extinct rock or the reminiscent of a gladiator and his or her shield and sword!
As we stepped out of the subway we were stunned, at least I was, at this building that was crumbling. That was the best part of seeing the Roman coliseum, knowing that it has been there for thousands of years! The booing of the crowd, roars of lions and tigers and the clinking of swords seemed to be right there and was pulling you back into time until a Scottish lad pulled us back into reality! The guy was maybe 25 and wore a shirt backing up his accent. " Do you speak English?" he asked. "Yes" we answered, however before we could squeeze another syllable in he blurted out his well-practiced speech on why we might want a tour the cost and other facts. We paid an extra 9 euros each and joined our group of "12" other tourists through security and on into the coliseum! The interior was less impressive, the seats had been taken out by Michelangelo to build the dome of the Basilica in the Vatican and the stage was long gone, exposing the thick stone cages and elevators for the animals. The animals were imported from what we now call Asia and Africa! The tigers were from the orient, elephant and lions from Africa. The animals that survived were killed and eaten. The Romans imported so many lions that they were close to extinction! From what we have gathered, the schedule of the games were as followed:
man vs. animal
animal vs. animal
at noon they had gladiator fights
and in the afternoon were the prisoner executions
Gladiators were 85% prisoners of war, 10% slaves and 5% volunteers! When the Romans pillaged and plundered, their prisoners included families. The men and women fought and the children ran out and agitated the animals with large forks. The gladiators would drink what we would now call red-bull, made of gladiator blood because they believed the testosterone made them stronger.
Part two of our tour was to the palace of the Roman emperors and the forum! Stay tuned for more on that.
02/09/2008, Cavi, Italy
When we sparked our friendship with Maris in the Azores and Lagos Portugal, we were instantly enamored by her friendly, ever-positive nature and shared laughs as she regaled us with her sailing stories. A competitive sailor, Maris, a native of Wales, now lives with her partner, Michel in Cavi, a small town about 45 minutes south of Portofino. Michel moved to Italy (after studying in the US and Holland) almost on a whim and started his dental practice. Sitting in the cockpit of Windancer in Lagos, Maris invited us to visit not only her new home, but lured us in with a visit to the dentist. Now, going to the dentist does not usually rank high on our things to do, but the opportunity to have an English-speaking dentist check out teeth was tempting.
How often does your dentist pick you up from the train station, drive you to the office, open it up just for you (remember, almost everyone is on holidays in August), check out the family's teeth, fill a broken filling and then invite you for a home-cooked meal. Turns out we all need to floss more; Jenny has two loose baby teeth and Connor's molars are pushing some of the last of his milk teeth to the side.
Sitting outside on the terrace of Maris and Michel's apartment overlooking the sea in Cavi, we enjoyed the best meal in Italy - homecooked, wrapped in the warmth of new friends and good wine, we ended a perfect day in Italy.
The next day we invited Maris and Michel to join us in our home and together sailed to Portofino where George (Clooney that is, but after seeing his face on calendars and ads throughout Europe, I feel we are on a first name basis) rides his chopper from his home in Lake Como. A tiny little town an hour drive north of the villages of Cinque Terre, Portofino's beauty lies in her quaint, under-stated charm. Lining the harbour are all the big names - YSL, Hermes, Zegna - mixed with the art galleries, gelaterrias and small touristy shops. Offlimits to most boats, we anchored in the outlying bay and dinghied ashore, wandered the streets, had the requisite gelato and sailed downwind to Siestri Levanti in the setting sun. We picked up Michel's daughter, Mika (sp??) and cooked up a MacKenzie favourite, tacos accompanied by beers, rum and cokes and the songs of Jimmy Buffet.
The oceans may be large but the family of sailors is really quite small; you meet, you share stories, you head off into different directions, but paths are sure to cross. And we are sure we will cross paths with Maris and Michel again, perhaps in the Canaries and if not, in the Caribbean as they compete in the J class races in St Maarten and Antigua.
Between La Spezia and Lavanga lie the five remote villages of Cinque Terre, recognized by the Unesco "Mankind's World Heritage" for their unique man-made landscape carved into the hills of the Ligurian coast. The villages, accessible only via foot or small boat, display the wares cultivated from the hills - olive oil, wine, pasta, pesto. Generations have worked to create this monument in the landscape where the stone terraces stretch from the hilltops to the sea held up with over 7000 stones unaided by cement or modern equipment. Until recently the paths between the five towns were the only communication routes; the rough coastline and harsh seas make it difficult to guarantee entry from the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. Today, the land falls under the protection of the National Park and Protected Marine Area and larger boats are discouraged from sailing, fishing and anchoring close to the coast.
On a gloriously hot day last Tuesday, August 26th we boarded the train in Lavagna with Maris Lyons, our fellow sailor from the ARC who had invited us to share time with her in this exquisite corner of Italy. In 45 minutes we were transported to the most southerly of the villages, Riomaggiore from where we began our day's adventures. The town itself was a tiny hamlet with narrow lanes and streets lined with small tourist shops, fruitteria, enotecha, cafes and pizzerias who beckoned to John like mermaids to a sailor. Unable to resist, we often ducked in to pick up fresh foccaccio with pomodoro (tomato and olive oil).
Each town boasts a harbour (a bit of a stretch of the definition) for here a few fishing boats moored and more lined the road sloping directly into the sea. We quickly set off for the next town, Manarola, a mere 20 minutes away along the Via dell'Amore (the road of love) where locals come to propose and surrounding a sculpture of man and woman, hundreds of padlocks representing their love can be found chained to the walls. Manarola was only slightly larger than the first town and we stopped only long enough to visit a local art gallery displaying originals capturing the light and colours of the local landscape.
From Manarola we walked the 2 km to the town of Corniglia, the highest of the five towns. The hike ended with a steep climb up winding steps where we rewarded ourselves with lunch and a trip to the gelateria. Corniglia is a bit bigger than the previous towns with boutiques and specialty stores of pasta, sauces and wines.
From Corniglia we trekked the hardest route that we thought would take us downhill to Vernazza resting on the sea, but we first had to traverse a steep uphill along rough paths and uneven steps carved into the hillside. Two kilometers took us 80 minutes and we arrived tired, dusty and thirsty. With a visit to the dentist awaiting, we stopped our visit at Vernazza and returned to Siestri Levanti via train. The 5 kilometers between the four villages took our breath away - figuratively and literally. Stopping along the paths to rest in the shade of olive trees we would glimpse back at the tiny towns nestled along the sea in the valley of the hills and feel a great sense of accomplishment to have walked the paths taken by many before us. It is with these images that we ended our day in Cinque Terre.
26/08/2008, Levanta, Italy
The Trifecta di Connor
Life on board appears filled with many little rituals, which over time eke into your family's life. Rituals in the eyes' of strangers, but for those of us in the moment, they become our memories, our fondest moments, and our glimpses of what we dreamed this journey would really be.
Months before we set off while I was hashing out the details of my sabbatical at work, a co-worker and dear friend, Tova, asked me very pointedly, "what do you want to get out of this trip?" I never forget that day, for it caused me to surface three very clear reasons that until that moment I didn't know I had defined.
1. John and I wanted to give our kids, Connor and Jenny, experiences and memories that would shape their actions, thoughts and decisions for the rest of their lives.
2. Time for John and me to reconnect as a couple and accomplish a shared goal and make the dream a reality.
3. Give myself some time to do what I love - read, travel, explore, and see the arts.
Today, we watched as some of the simplest rituals, some of the simplest moments became lasting memories as Connor achieved a never before achieved trifecta - win, place and show.
We started with the ritual of games. When we packed (and over packed), we loaded up on games - cards, UNO, Skippo, Phase 10, chess, backgammon, checkers, crib, brain teasers, puzzles. I have long loved to play games, as have the rest of the family, but John and I make it a rule, that we very rarely play against each other as neither can stand to lose to the other. Crib was one of those games that I love to play, but until this trip John avoided playing with me. This last Christmas, under a tree filled with gifts destined for life on Windancer, I received my favourite Christmas gift - a cribbage board from John. Even though he (in the past) loathed playing against me, he gave me a gift that he knew would make me happy and something we could do in the many hours just the family would be aboard. Under the tutelage of Uncle Bob, Jenny quickly learned all the combos adding to 15 and 31. In the recent past she has skunked not only John and me, but BOTH John and me in the same game. Games are part of boat life.
Scrabble is another game that has its place aboard Windancer. I have challenged most of our guests and relished in winning (usually). It isn't that I have a great vocabulary, but learned at the hands of our contractor to play the board, not my letters. Last night Connor and I dusted off the scrabble, yanked out the dictionary and began. Not only did Connor beat me, but also he scored a whopping 294 points with words like EX, QAID, ZOEA and UNCHAINS. He played brilliantly, searching the board for triple letter and word spots to lay the highest point letters. The first of the trifecta - WIN.
This morning, we stumbled across a gem of a town, Portavenere, just outside of Spezia. Under a black and white striped church from the 13th century, the thin multi-coloured homes line the marina. Hidden behind the homes runs the main street, which houses olive, pesto and wine boutiques. From the cobbler's store emanates the succulent aroma of leather and inside the most beautiful bags hang over the hand made shoes. Further down the way we see the pesto/cheese/olive oil vending machine, in case you have a hankering for the delicacies and arrive when the stores are closed. On the way to the church where a cat sleeps under the altar you come across Byron's Grotto dedicated to the great author who lived here. As is our usual ritual when we come to a town in the morning, I found a café and ordered breakfast - cappuccino, brioche and jus presse (freshly squeezed orange juice). This morning, Connor asked if he too could have a coffee. After adding the requisite sugar to his cappuccino Connor relished in his first coffee. The second of the trifecta - in the quaintest PLACE, a hidden gem, Connor become my partner in this morning ritual.
(As an aside, for those of you familiar with Connor's often endless prattling, imagine it on fast forward as the caffeine jag kicked in. As we wandered the quiet streets and tucked into boutiques and the quiet of the church, there was Connor literally hopping, picking up his sister, bouncing off the ancient walls, all the while spewing facts - all accurate facts, but at times totally unrelated to the moments at hand. Ahhh, the power of the coco bean.)
Later today, we sailed the coast of the Cinqueterra, a series of five very isolated towns linked by narrow walkways and home to man-made terraces laden with vines heavy with grapes and olive trees. Unable to anchor in any of these protected bays, we continued to Lavanto where we anchored just outside the beach area. After swimming and completing our other rituals (homework, blogging and photo archiving), we sat down for an Italian dinner aboard Windancer - pasta, bocconcini salad, fruit, pesto and wine. (Today, while visiting in Portavenere, we purchased the most exquisite pesto from an elderly Italian gentleman who worked the front of the store while his wife made fresh batches in the back. We also bought what looked like a giant pizza without any sauces, that is actually pasta that you cut into 5cm squares and cook for 2 minutes. The result is a bready-type pasta that comes to life under a drizzle of pesto, olive oil or other sauces.)
Now, for those of you who have hosted Connor for dinner, you may be familiar with his food peccadilloes - neither pasta nor rice. But tonight, Connor choose to try the unknown and ate not a piece of pasta, but actually 2 helpings of weird flat pizza type pasta. Trifecta number three - Connor SHOWS his courage and looks his fear of pasta straight in the eye.
These simple moments - a scrabble game, café in the square, pasta on board -rituals to outsiders, but not to us. These are our memories, our triumphs. These are our quiet ways in which we subtly shape our children's experiences and, with any hope, their futures.
Dedicated to Connor for trying, to Tova for asking and to Sandra, Richard and Meghan Mary Barbara for playing a part in our games.
25/08/2008, Pisa, Italy
Pisa Was Meant to Be
Whenever a group of sailors gets together, one of two things happens. The first occurs when two ships are heading in the same direction and an impromptu, unofficial regatta suddenly starts, each claiming "it is not a race". The second occurs when there isn't enough wind for a non-race and then the sailors' tales begin, each besting the other or providing warnings and advice of future ports of call.
When we were just beginning our Med sail, we were often the recipient of an earful about the Cote d'Azur and just how awfully crowded, hot, expensive and snooty southern France could be. Now, the source was often English sailors and it seems the French and English live to keep their love-hate relationship alive. We also had heard how great Italy could be the further south you went, but just how hard it was to find anchorage along the Ligurian and Tuscan coasts and almost impossible to find dock space. And if you have a catamaran whose dimensions make you almost a perfect rectangle, you might as well pack it in now.
So as we meandered along the southern French coastline, we discovered crowded beaches, hot towns where the sweat trickled down your back before you stepped ashore, expensive boutiques and the occasional snooty Frenchman. But we avoided the beaches in favour of the small towns and islands, adjusted our schedules to miss the mid day sun, shopped the local markets and never stepped foot in a boutique and found ourselves charmed by the subtle humour of the French waiters and the patience of the shopkeepers as we made our almost daily market purchases.
We approached the home of pizza, pasta and gelato with a bit of anchoring trepidation - even the chart books showed few anchorages along the coast and we have a date with a dentist in Lavagna on August 26th (that is a whole other story). After we had left Elba and her lovely bays, we were bound for the Tuscan coast and Marina de Pisa, a small town just 10 km from the world-famous Pisa. So far we had pretty good luck, but our captain had his doubts we would find a place to dock and as we started up the River Arno, it looked hopeless. Lining the river were massive fishing nets and not too far ahead were overhead cables that would further thwart our attempts. But to our pleasant surprise, our radio call was answered in broken English, "head to dock 19". We docked stern to, settled in and John, Jenny and I headed to Marina de Pisa, a mere 4 km walk into town. (Connor stayed on board to finish the Da Vinci Code, one of the many novels he is chewing through these days). With the exception of the best gelato and pizza, there isn't a lot in Marina de Pisa, particularly no car rental.
We boarded a bus heading to Pisa with a plan for Jenny and I to get off at our marina and John to head to Pisa to find a car to rent. With no idea where the bus stops and watching for our marina, which in essence looked like a bunch of houses with some masts in the background behind hedges and construction, we rang the stop bell 'now', hoping for the shortest walk possible. Seems we nailed it and literally walked across the street. And seems John nailed the only car rental in the vicinity of the bus station who just happened to be open til 7 and happened to have one car left, a tiny blue FIAT with tires smaller than our fold up bikes. He was home in no time and we happily jumped in and returned to Pisa with a less than detailed map.
With no wrong turns, we parked along the street, paid our money in the meter and walked towards the Piazza dei Miracoli (Miracle Square). We could see the dome of the cathedral up the street and to the left, the Baptistry. But it was only as we entered the square that we spotted the belltower. There SHE stood, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. She is beautiful, clean, simple, and leaning, almost foolishly, but perfectly. It was the strangest feeling to be standing directly in front of her after all these years of seeing her in text books and post cards. The first thing we did was what every tourist does - snap photos of us 'holding' up the tower. We wandered to the ticket office and bought tickets for the tour the next morning and a few souvenirs. We crossed the grounds and then headed to a small restaurant for pasta.
As we returned to the boat John and I just looked at each and agreed, it was just meant to be. First, a dock spot in the most unlikely and ugliest of marinas. Then a bus ride stopping directly in front of the marina. Next, the only car rental in site, stays open and has one last car. We drive into Pisa, get a parking spot a block away from one of the Seven Wonders of the World and pay 1 EU for the meter when it costs $35/day to park in downtown Toronto to go to work. And then, we are greeted by a site that took our breath away, so majestic and pure as the evening sun lit her up. Pisa was just meant to be.
And it gets better. The next day, we got up early all ready for our trip back to the tower to climb up to the top. As we got in the car, John turned the key to ...silence. Dead battery. So what are the odds you can actually communicate, 'do you have jumper cables' in Italian? But lo and behold, the guy looks at our problem, walks back into his workshop and drags out a battery with cables on a cart and boosts the car. We make it back into town with 10 minutes before our scheduled tour, walk back into the plaza, stow our bags and head for the tower. Walking up the Leaning Tower of Pisa is no mean feet. Exactly 300 steps that slope to the outside of the building, then get steeper and then slope to the inside of the tower as you round each level. The view from the top looks over the thousands of Pisan roofs, terra cotta as far as the eye can see. After the designated time, we are instructed to leave for the next tour of guests. Tours run on the half hour and are limited to 15 with a strict no bag policy; they are serious about their Tower and protect her with a maternal love.
We head back to the car and with a full rental day ahead of us, decide to drive into Chianti country and explore a little of the countryside. We are immediately surrounded by fields of sunflowers turning their heads under the Tuscan sun. We speed along the Fi-Pi-Li highway (Firenze, Pisa, Livorno) and in no time land in Firenza, or as we like to call her, Florence. Knowing that this renaissance city takes a good 3 days, we choose to continue to Chianti country, but when we spot the roof of Brunelleschi's famous Duomo, we alter course and vrooming down narrow streets, hit upon the high end fashion district right around the corner of the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore and Campanile belltower. It was meant to be. John parks the car outside of Gucci, while the kids and I quickly venture across the square to take a few pics and marvel at the beauty of the church and Baptistry. We traded positions, I stand guard over our illegal parking spot while John quickly walks around.
We head out of the city making our way through streets spilling over with tourists and market stalls and stop for gas and some of the best pizza we have ever had, made by the guy who works at the Speedy Pizza in the gas station. We continue to Greve in the heart of Chianti country and just before we hit the town square, we turn up a winding road to the small town of Montefioralle, which is just a few tiny streets with beautiful doors and vines and bougainvillea climbing the walls. We turn into an Enoteche, a wine store, and sample the wines from 2004 to 2006 and purchase a few bottles. We wandered the triangular plaza in Greve under the watchful eye of Giovanni da Verrazzano, the statue of the local boy who made good as the first European to see Manhattan in 1524.
Driving back to Pisa we took the scenic Chiantigiana road and stopped in a 'mall' to provision for the next few weeks. Running late, we made the choice to take the car back to the rental place and then take a taxi to the boat, but the rental owner gives us a grace period so John drives us back to the boat, returns the car and catches the bus back to the boat. All in all, Pisa was just meant to be.
20/08/2008, Isola Capraia, Italy
We sailed from the island of Elba (famous for the exiled home of Napoleon) to Isola Capraia 40 miles north of Elba. We anchored in a little bay just north of the town of Porto Capraia.
Mom and I decided that we were going to go snorkeling. On the way there we saw sole fish-a flat fish that will camouflage into what it is on, such as rocks or sand. We kept snorkeling and we saw a jellyfish and thought that we could go back now. When we were heading back we saw a bag but didn't know what it was. Suddenly I saw a head looking at me, then I saw a tentacle. It was an octopus! "MOM! it is an octopus!" And then all of a sudden it stared to move. "CONNOR - OCTOPUS!" Connor swam over and then dad came in the dinghy. We took some pictures. Dad swam down and poked it. When it was poked it turned colours or swam away. Then Connor and I saw sole fish chasing a crab. Later that day, after we dried off and played some cards, we went to town, came back, and had dinner aboard. By far this was the best snorkeling I have seen so far in the Mediterranean.
16/08/2008, Portoferriao, Elba, Italy
I awoke early this morning for no particular rhyme or reason, and began to read my newly started book, The Da Vinci Code. Mom was in a get it clean mood so Jenny and I picked up the mounds of who knows what off our cabin floor, while my Mom "prepared" our cereal breakfast and my Dad worked away on his computer. We had decided to leave on the dinghy at 10:30 for Portoferraio, the town Napoleone was exiled to. We walked along the board-walk eyeing clothes, shoes and perfume stores for Mom and Jenny, WIFI for Dad and Napoleone busts for myself. We trudged up a steep set of 135 steps, Jenny keeps count, to the residence of our short friend Bonaparte. We bought our tickets and headed off to the foyer where I saw the nicest exile I've ever seen, if when my parents sent me to my room it looked like that I would be wreaking havoc every moment possible, as if I don't already. We passed his bedroom, equipped with a tall bed, draped in golden sheets and with beautiful carvings at the head of the bed, unfortunately the bed was so high up that I suspected Napoleone may have needed a ladder to have access to it. Bonaparte had many Tuscan mirrors and pictures of himself and his son, the King of Rome, a goofy name huh, I thought so too! At the exhibition upstairs we saw his hat, clothes, English lesson pages and his travel kit and tooth cleaning kit! We saw the original flag he christened when he was exiled there, and I thought I knew the definition of vain and control freak! He even had an inkpot clock with himself on it. Over all, it was a neat experience to be part of history.
Legend has it Napoleon hated Elba and counted down the days until he could leave. However, my Dad figured out why he disliked his house, beause he didn't live on the beachy west side of the island!
14/08/2008, Bastia, Corsica
We Couldn't in Cannes, But Can in Corsica
Night sails have their rewards. At the moment, in the sheer darkness, it can appear that there isn't anything rewarding about sitting on deck, alone, peering at radar to spot ships, tagging them to check the distance until our paths cross, all the while huddled under a blanket, watching waves crest with crossed fingers...please don't spray on to the top deck...please let me stay dry.
But as the skies slowly lighten, the fear, no, not fear, but more apprehension also lightens. Suddenly what appeared ominous or mysterious, is normal in the light. And then, as the sun crests the horizon, the true rewards arrive. Brilliant sunlight brings warmth along with the early morning stragglers as they stumble out of their bunks. A smile, a little friend to offer a hug. And then the reward of being off watch and returning to your bunk for a few hours more of sleep.
Sighting land is another reward and Wednesday morning after we sailed from Nice we spotted the Corsican shore about 10 am. On course for St Florent, a small town at the intersection where your index finger and thumb meet in the shape of the island of Corsica, we spied a beach and altered course. Like a mini Illettes of Formentera, we were rewarded with crystal clear warm waters and a sandy beach. After a day of playing in the waters, we anchored a short distance away off the St Florent marina. Thursday morning we dinghied ashore for our typical quest for a boulanger for fresh baguettes. A short stop in a restaurant along the marina for a petit dejeuner (café au lait, croissant, orange presse) and then a return to the boat where Connor was still sleeping, a sign of his imminent voyage into his teens (Sept 22 he will be 13).
We sailed up the index finger and around the finger tip in good winds between 10-20 knots until we passed the finger tip taking us from the west to the east coast. At the Cap Corse, we encountered the predictable 25-35 knot winds and anchored in the first small bay offering us shelter. We fell asleep to the stifling heat of a windless night to awaken to the wind whistling through our hatches. After a slow morning we set sail and sail we did.
In Cannes we hunkered down in the marina when the winds gusted to 35 knots, our guests grateful for the reprieve from the potential upheaval such gusts can bring. In Corsica, knowing that Windancer was good for it and the crew were game, we set sail down the east coast of Corsica towards Bastia. With Connor at the helm, John reefing in the main and Ziggy correcting the jib, we reached a maximum of 10.4 knots speed over ground (SOG) with a double reefed main and triple reefed jib. The wind gusted to 47 knots periodically dropping to 35kn. You could see the wind as she gusted over the water bringing with her ocean spray. In the lee of the island we were saved from big waves, but when water sprays over the hull in 40 knots, it feels like being hit by a pea shooter at close range. Oh, the glorious feel of truly sailing after almost three weeks of no wind in Southern France.
After we anchored just south of the old village in a some-what sheltered marina, I glimpsed up at the Corsican courtesy flag, a black profile on a white sail of a bandana-toting pirate-esque figure. In the winds he seemed to move forward and kiss the line holding him tight. Now, at rest, he winked down at me as if to say, "For you see, in Corsica we do things our way, even the wind is better than in France."
12/08/2008, Nice to Monaco and Back
With the realization that we had to remain docked in Nice until parts ordered from the US arrived, we decided to rent a car and tour the coast. Docking, albeit refreshing after a few days at sea, isn't my favourite place to be. I would rather be anchored a short distance from shore, knowing we can travel to town in our dinghy when we want or remain securely in a quiet bay. Harbours are by nature safe havens and offer shelter from weather, but without wind, comes immense heat. Although we have adjusted our schedules to meet with the midday searing spike, there is no reprieve unless ducking into stores and stores mean tourists and tourists mean crowds or closing ourselves into the air conditioned comfort of Windancer. When anchored, we trust there will be a small breeze and there are always the crystal clear Mediterranean seas to dive into.
The Nice Marina is home to the tiny and the tinsel - small sailboats, fishing boats and the ever-present mega yachts. A mere 15 feet from our bow lies Samar, a 77 metre yacht with its own helicopter and Mini Cooper. Behind her lies Christina O, the original Onassis boat who in her prime must have been splendid, but looks a wee bit weary now. Across the way is Martha Ann, a new 60 meter navy blue beauty. Samar, a Kuwaitee corporately owned boat hosts the owners this week (although it seems that the actual owners of the boats spend only3-4 weeks aboard each year, and unless in charter, the yacht sits in a marina throughout the rest of the year). Accompanying the owners of Samar is a huge chocolate lab who doesn't have to rely on the crew for shore leave, but instead has his own room on board. Ahhh, the dog's life. (By the way, I have been remiss in my writings, but promise to load a few perspectives including: A Dog's Life, A Month is Southern France, Barcelona - the Quiet Beauty, and Rituals.)
So, sequestered in the Nice Marina, we got a few chores under our belt including washing the deck from bow to stern, cleaning heads, defrosting the fridge and changing the oil in our port engine. After lunch and showers, we picked up our 2 door Corsa and headed out of Nice for Eze, one of the perched villages slightly inland.
These villages perches were built on hilltops around a fortified chateau in the early Middle Ages as safe havens from a series of invaders coming from the coast or the hinterland. They were chosen for the 360-degree vantage points and the towns were built in the local stone to blend in with the landscape.
Leaving Nice we had the choice of three corniche roads leading to Monaco. Snaking one on top of the other, you can take the high road, the coastal route of the middle road. We headed along Moyenne Corniche (the middle road) for what seemed like just minutes and arrived in Eze located just 14 km from Nice. Parking in one of two parkades, we started to walk up the steep walkways into Eze, situated at the top of a 1400 foot hill. Built on sheer rock, the fortified village is possibly the most perche of all the villages with narrow lanes, twisting alleys and crooked stairs. Originally founded as a Ligurian settlement, over the years Eze has been sacked, burned and destroyed countless times as the Phoenicians, Romans, Lombards, Saracens, pirates and French fought for her occupation. Finally, in an era of peace, Eze began to rebuild herself, only to fall to the forces of nature as an earthquake of 1887 destroyed the fortress and split what remained of the town walls.
Today Eze is like an open air museum filled with galleries, restaurants and craft shops including the olive wood carver who makes the smoothest bowls, salad tongs and craggly old faces. (My personal quest is to buy a salad bowl but I am holding out for Africa to get a better price than the 150EU asked in France.)
We hiked up to the Jardin Exotique, a collection of cacti and sculptures leading to the top of the hill. From our vantage point we could see down in to St Jean Cap Ferrat, Villefranche, Nice (and on a clear day all the way to St Tropez). Thunder, lightening and a smattering of rain greeted us on the top of the hill, something we welcomed after almost two months without rain. We huddled under the remains of the fortress and then made our way back down to the car.
We made our way east towards Monaco slowed by traffic as we crossed Cap d'Ail, the small little luxury village lying in France. We made our way into the smallest European principality, a mere 1.5 square miles, and drove through the town, past the Hotel de Paris and Monte Carlo Casino along the Monte Carlo race course and back out of the town. What I had not realized before we cruised the Cote d'Azur is how close all of these famous enclaves are to one another. Nice to Monaco is a mere 20 km. We stopped in the beach of Cap d'Ail and let the kids go for a swim before heading westward along the Basse Corniche which meanders along the coast. We entered the lush, green point of the super luxury villas and hotels on St. Jean Cap Ferrat. Driving through this exclusive enclave, we could only glimpse the villas behind gated drives, high hedges and hidden cameras.
We continued to Villefranche, my personal favourite of all the towns on the Cote d'Azur. From the quiet anchorage we had spied her neon signs but it was only ashore that we discovered the beauty hidden in the trompe l'oil facades amidst the purple bougainvillea covered walls, covered streets, steep lanes and fortress. There is a certain charm in her streets and the many restaurants greet the guests from the yachts anchored in the bay between Villefranche and Cap Ferrat and the drivers from Monaco and Nice. We dined along the water in a restaurant where the waiters had to cross the lanes of traffic to deliver your meals. John and I have become fans of the local cusine including Moule Frites (mussels and French fries), Salade Chevre Chaude (baked goats cheese on baguette slices nestled in greens with pine nuts) and rose wine.
Returning to Nice, a mere 5 minute drive, I thought of our day inland versus the days at sea. We have looked at the land from both sides now. Although faster to get to and easier to access via car, the villas of Cap Ferrat can only be enjoyed from the seas. And there is something to be said for the feeling of 'we-made-itness' you experience when you anchor in a bay and dinghy ashore to the hidden gems of towns along the Cote d'Azur.
10/08/2008, Nice, France
Today we bid a sad farewell to Uncle Dan, Aunt Nancy and Cousin Misa as they returned to landlubber life safely back in Columbus, Ohio. I joke about the "landlubber life" comment only because I just received a besutifully written "thank you" e-mail from my brother and one of his comments stated thanks for having "patience with the landlubber aboard"!
But the Farslow family visit was incredible, stealing more lines from Dan's e-mail, "getting better as each day past, too fast I(he) might add".
We were extremely fortunate to travel to three countries, France, Monaco and Italy in nine days, seeing the famous ports of Nice. Monaco, St. Tropez and Cannes, and getting berths in three of the four! Dan and I think we have finally figured out the system of securing a berth in France in August (the busiest of holiday times) - the best French attempt at communications and simply showing up and never taking no for an answer! All really great fun and very rewarding being on the dick in these spectacular, world class cities and boating meccas
So when guest leave, just like at home, a big clean is always in the cards. After a restful Sunday aboard Windancer, Monday started with a brisk cleaning of the outside of the vessel by the crew while the captain work diligently to arrange for the delivery of the necessary parts currently stuck in customs and in limbo.
By early afternoon, the boat was spotless and a customs broker in Nice harbour had arranged for the delivery of the two courier packages. Tres Bien!!!
PS - our dockmate (seen in the picture) is the motor yacht SAMAR, the 36th largest private motor yacht in the world!
03/08/2008, Marina Saint Lucia, St. Rafael, France
Our time at the Monte Carlos casino in Monaco was incredible. It truely deserves it's rank as the richest country and city in the world with more millionaires than anywhere else on the planet! The casino, which you pay ten euros for the privilege entering and lossing your money, was spectacular. Watching the real "players" betting rectangular 500 or 1000 euro chips like chump change and collecting their winnings of 25,000 euros in large, rectangular 10,000 euro chips!
We continued on to anchor overnight of a small Italian town, then returned to Monaco to re-provision Windancer IV before heading out on the Farslow family's first overnight experience. Nancy stood watch with Connor from 2300 to 0100 and Dan with John from 0500 until we arrived in St. Tropez.
The mooring gods were not with us in St. Tropez so after enjoying a few hours shopping in the "place to see and be seen" for the rich and famous, we sailing a few hours and we lucky to be given a berth in Marina Nord in Saint Rafael.
It is now 1430 and we are "gathering the crew"(Uncle Dan went to visit the old town and the girls and Connor headed to the beach) and departing en route to Cannes to anchor off the beautiful island of Isle Margarite", Tomorrow - CANNES.
02/08/2008, Monte Carlo, Port of Monaco
Birthday in Monte Carlo, Monaco, Cote d'Azur
Peak holiday season on the Cote d'Azur, the beaches are covered with tourists from all over world in various states of nakedness and the marinas are full of the largest and most opulent yachts in the world. John and Zig tell us the sun has been shining and the seas gloriously calm since they turned around Gibralter for the Med two months ago.
It is our fourth morning on Windancer IV, this one a little later and slower than the others, the result of being in Monaco and going with the flow of the local crowd. The evenings start well after the sun goes down. It is no misconception that this is the playground of the rich and famous - with heavy emphasis on the rich.
During our passage from Nice to Villefranche sur Mer to Monaco we were (and still are) in the company of about 15 of the world's largest one hundred private sea-going vessels and it was made clear to us in every harbor that despite being a large and graceful catamaran, we are not a member of that group.
Getting a berth in the harbor in Monaco took very thick skin and determination, to overlook our first denial two weeks prior to arrival, then being ignored over the radio as we called in during our approach to the marina and finally the First Mate being told face to face that there was no room for us. Not giving up, it took all of Captain John's charm and magic on a repeat visit to somehow sway the Monaco Port Authority to put us up after all, side-to, perfectly located, steps from the city.
We tied up about at six and started our stay by watching the Ferraris drive past the harbor road. The plan was to clean up and celebrate a birthday by going up the hill to Monte Carlo for dinner, visit the famed Casino, and watch the beautiful people enjoy the night. One only hears about the opulence; that Monaco holds more per capita millionaires than any other place in the world, that helicopters ferry folks in and out of their estates and to and from the yachts.
Off to Monte Carlo after the sunset, about 9:30, early by local standards, past the Versace, Gucci, Hermes, and Valentino shops, to the Hotel de Paris and the Monte Carlo Casino, favorite haunt of the mythical James Bond. As we approached the Casino crowds of elegantly dressed folks in black and white and diaphanous gowns were making their way into the evening's show. The road was littered with Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls, Porsche and massive elegant vehicles who's names I didn't recognize.
Dinner was at the Cafe de Paris on the circle across from the Casino and the Hotel de Paris, outdoors on the patio in a cozy back corner with views of the winging angels lining the top of the Casino. It was almost midnight when we finished but the tables were still full and more people coming in all the time. Out front the place was packed, cars going round and round and folk coming and going from the Casino.
The kids were tired out and went down the hill while we paid 10 Euro for the privilege of going in the Monte Carlo Casino to lose our money. Strangely enough, it was well worth the price of admission! The interior is ancient, taking you back to the 1800's, massive domed ceilings, painted with murals and chandeliers glittering over the roulette tables. It is easy visualize James Bond among the high rollers.
Then there were the gamblers, a dashing dude in white with silver pointed-toed shoes, young ladies sheathed in black twittering and watching their men lose a bundle and shabby folk cashing in bundles of chips. One elderly gent was playing 500 Euro minimum blackjack by himself at a table, four and five hands at a time, while a crowd watched from behind. At the roulette wheel the Captain taught me what the betting was all about as a swarthy guy playing green chips took in over 26,000 Euro in two turns of the wheel.
Unfortunately, we know our place and were "tourists" at the Casino, only able to vicariously experience the thrill of the win and agony of the loss. As John pointed out, very few of the active gamblers looked happy. At three o'clock we walked down the hill back to Windancer, completing a birthday not like any other.
Well, there was the part about driving a red Ferrari F355 Spyder roadster around the Monaco Grand Prix Formula One course through town, but that's another story........
30/07/2008, St. Laurent de Var, France
At dawn, we hauled the anchor and motored into the port of Saint Laurent de Var, France that is perfectly situated for picking our new guests up at the Nice Airport.
Ziggy taxied to the airport while Connor and Jennifer finished the final "boat school" lessons for the week. Our deal with the kids is that while we have guests, school is on holiday!
Team Farslow was visibly exhausted but eager to begin their Cote D'Azur sailign adventure, so we motored in calm conditions past the city of Nice and entered the harbour. We were extremely fortunate and were granted a perfect dock assignment with some wonderful neighbours (see above picture).
28/07/2008, Cannes, France
Bon Jour France
Monday, July 28 - Tuesday, July 29th
Ile de Porquerolles, St Tropez and Cannes
We sailed into France on a perfect day, albeit with little wind. The sea day was a welcome return after so many days doing so much. Back to homework, cleaning and just resting. These days are great for us to re-calibrate our itinerary and make any adjustments. We originally didn't have Italy on our radar, but after so many rave reviews from other sailors, we are attempting to squeeze it in and cutting France a little shorter. But if France turns out anything like our first two days, we may see a battle wage between these countries for visiting time.
We were heading to a set of four islands off the coast of France near Toulon. Up on deck we were playing crib and reading when suddenly Connor spouted, "What the heck is that? It looks like a submarine!" He was right and, after altering our course to get a better look, we were passed by a French sub on her way to Toulon, a large Navy base. Now, you don't see one of those everyday.
We anchored in a crowded, but peaceful bay on the Ile de Porquerolle, the island which inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. We swam, had a lovely salmon dinner followed by banana splits - our welcome to France meal. Early on Tuesday morning, John raised the anchor and departed for St Tropez.
It seems very surreal to say "We are spending the afternoon in St Tropez" aloud. Entering the Med was a big moment for us, but there is something about actually being in these famous towns that doesn't quite seem real. But here we are. We were bracing ourselves for an over-the-top town, filled with the beautiful, the rich, the famous, the wanna be's, the wanna be seens. But St Tropez pleasantly surprised us. Oh, for sure, the mega yachts graced the harbour and marina with the crew bedecked in their matching gear chauffeuring their guests between yacht and waiting Rolls Royce, but once ashore, we found ourselves in a bustling small town with ice cream shops and easels of art lining the boardwalk. The side streets and the roads up the hill were filled with tiny boutiques home to local artisans and gourmet shops and the bigger names of Hermes and the like. We wandered through the morning market and ate a late lunch at a local café. It feels good to speak our limited French after struggling unintelligently in Portugal and attempting a few lines in Spanish.
We returned to the boat around 4, went for a fast dip to cool off and then headed the 25 miles to Cannes. We passed the hours reading and lying about with our only interruption the countless helicopters buzzing overhead - we can only guess they are taking guests from St. Tropez to Monaco for an evening at the casino.
As we entered the harbour of Cannes, we couldn't believe the number of mega yachts, so large we thought they were cruise ships. As some waited for entry into the marina, we ventured further into the harbour and, puzzled, observed the countless small fishing boats and pleasure craft lined up neatly in a row. After surveying the area, we realized it was fireworks night in Cannes. We anchored amongst the boats and were welcomed to Cannes as the symphony played and a brilliant pyrotechnical show burst overhead. If this is how France welcomes their guests, even those of us in the modest 45ft catamarans, we can hardly wait to see what Antibes, Nice and Monaco have to offer.
26/07/2008, Cadaques, Spain
July 26th, 2008
Barcelona to Cadeques
After three glorious days reveling in the architectural wonders and energy of the worldclass city of Barcelona, we left in the evening for an over night sail to our last stop in Spain. Arriving early in the morning of Sunday, July 27th at Cadeques we were greeted by another perfect sunrise. The small town has a certain vibe to it, although in many ways it was nothing special. The white square hotels and apartments nestled against the hill and sloped down to small beaches of stone. A few tourist shops, restaurants, cafes and a flee market in the central square.
We dinghied ashore and, after the usual stops to check our internet access and pick up water at the local grocery store, we hiked a kilometer over the hill to the small bay of Port Lligat, home to the Salvador Dali House, where he lived his summers for many years. The museum required reservations which we didn't have, so we held a reservation for later that evening, with the hope of leaving our current anchorage and motoring over to the bay. We hiked back to Cadeques and after a fast swim on the rock beach, we returned to Windancer.
After sailing over to Port Lligat, we tried anchoring three times with no luck. The heavy weeds made it tough to get a secure anchor and we decided it wasn't in the cards to stop here. So that night we said adios to Espanol after nearly a month touring the cities of Valencia, Barcelona and cruising the Ballearic Islands of Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentara. The next morning we would say Bon Jour to France.
25/07/2008, Barcelona, Soain
We already miss our guest frm Vancouver, but have brother Dan and family joining us on July 31st in Nice and need to re-provision and get the boat cleaned and ready for ou new guests.
We headed via subway (note to self - Barcelona is one of the most amazing cities and it has an awesome public transit system - including a very extensive and efficient subway) to the center of Barcelona to see a few Gaudi designed buildings.
We also found one of the two famous 100 year old grocery stores situated in the town's old downtown - Colmado Quilez. Thoughts of the Longo family starting their grocery empire filled my mind as I purchased some wine in this mainstay of grocery retailing!
We continued to the main grocery store (unfortunately the historic grocery store had a very limited selection and no fresh fruit or veggies) and completed a full re-provisioning for Windancer. Exhausted once we returned home, the crew took a much needed na while I headed to the local wifi spot and tried to source the necessary maintenance parts we require.
A good decision was made to stay an extra day and night in Barcelona and the entire crew enjoyed a restful sleep. Tomorrow we will finish washing Windancer, take the cable car ride to the Montjuic (huge city park) and sail overnight to our next port.
23/07/2008, Barcelona, Spain
After 12 amazing days while the crew of Windancer IV enjoyed our first "boat guests", Karen, Emily and Kate Walker, often referred to as the three bears, boarded the Aeroporto transit train and headed home to Vancouver via Philadelphia and Seattle where they will spend this evening.
The visit was beyond amazing, far more than my words can tell, and the four cousins spent the "time of their lives" playing, swimming, diving, snorkelling and exploring whatever Spain and the Balearic Islands had to offer. I can honestly say that I have not seen a more incredible bonding experience happen before our eyes - it was as if these kids hap never been apart. No fighting, no arguing, and to end it all off, on the return passage from Ibiza to Barcelna, we enjoyed a swim in 5000 feet refreshing Mediterranean water and while drying off, Connor spotted four dolphins swimming towards the boat. What a thrilling finish to a spectacular trip.
21/07/2008, Formentera, Balearic Islands, Spain
Having family join us on our trip is so incredible. We have always lived 1000's of miles away from our family and now seeing the cousins play, do crafts, talk, giggle, laugh and truely enjoy each others company is the best thing anyone could ask for.
ENJOY LIFE - It's a BEACH!!!
20/07/2008, Formentera, Balearic Islands, Spain
This week in the Balearics has been the highlight of our trip. Starting in Soller, Mallorca and traveling to our current destination of Formentera has left us with nothing but memories of an amazing vacation. Our Balearic travels began with 2 days in Soller. We rented a car and went to the cities of Valdemossa and Deia. Small cobbled streets, local stores, and blooming flower boxes were some of the most spectacular things on our day trip. We all got a scare when we traveled down a steep windy road about 4 metres wide to a secluded swimming area for a mid-day dip. A few days later we arrived in San Telmo where we spent a day tubing, snorkeling, and roaming the small town.
A day later we arrived in Palma, Mallorca. We took a short walk to drop off the laundry and visit the local farmers market. We made our way to the main shopping district and visited stores such as tous and El corte de ingles. As we continued our shopping excursion, we found ourselves in small alleyway like streets filled with small boutique stores. On our way back to the boat we found the Palma Cathedral. The next day we toured the Cathedral and found that it was breathtaking. Our tickets to the cathedral included entrance to a museum of relics, and other religious artifacts.
From Palma we sailed about 45 min. to a busy resort beach called Cala Portals. There was an island within swimming distance near the boat. All four of us (the kids) swam to the island and walked up most of it (until we got too many splinters to count). Uncle John took us on the dingy to the raft off of the beach. We all took our turn doing flips and dives until we were picked up again by Uncle John.
That night we sailed to Ibiza and we all took turns doing watch (Jenny, Kate, Karen - 9:00 - 10:00pm, Emily, Connor - 10:00 - 12:00pm, John - 12:00-3:30am, and Zig - 3:30 - 8:00am). In the morning we went to the "hippy market." There were tons of stalls with hippy apparel, music, jewellery, and crafts. We got a few great things but I will never forget the amount of dread locks, incense, and B.O. that I witnessed. After the market we took a taxi back to the port and made a few phone calls. That night we left for Formentera and arrived there around 9:00pm.
Our first morning in Formentera was like a dream, the clearest water I had ever seen and a beautiful shore. The downside - a whole lot of naked people. We went a shore and took along walk along the beach. We ended up swimming back to the boat for breakfast. After lunch we went back to the beach and rented motorized little boats. For half an hour we took the boats around the bay and stopped by to say hello to Aunt Zig and Uncle John. Connor and I took the little boat around a nearby island and were hit by a wave which brought water into it. After returning the boats we came back to Windancer for a swim. That afternoon we took the dingy into the town and took a taxi to yet another hippy market. This one was much smaller and was filled with handmade crafts. After a long bus ride back we took the dingy back to the boat for dinner (pasta night).
This morning Uncle John and Aunt Zig swam to the beach to collect shells and snorkel. After they returned Aunt Zig was wading in the water talking to us and was stung by a jelly fish. While her wound was healing we all went up the mast and took some pictures on the boat. This was followed by a short craft break and a scuba diving session. Uncle John taught Kate and I how to scuba dive and we both took a short turn trying it out. Currently, we are about to eat lunch (Tacos!), and Uncle John will be taking the dingy into the town to post this. We plan to set sail tomorrow for Barcelona, for more adventures including the Picasso Museum and possibly a wholesale bead market (for craft purposes). In conclusion my week in the Balearics has been full of new experiences and great adventures.
16/07/2008, San Telmo, Mallorca, Spain
Any boater can tell you that a collision at "sea" is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone - dangerous, damaging......real trouble.
The crew of Windancer IV enjoyed another perfect day in another great cala (bay) here in San Telmo. After a gourmet dinner aboard, we enjoyed watching the local festival boat playing music and crsuing through the anchorage. Everyone heads to bed for a well deserved sleep.
I woke to the sound and feel of bumping n the starboard side - the our side - and as I sit up and loko out our small "porthole" - terror fills my body.
Another sailboat, a sloop maybe 35' long, is bumping Windancer, their crew on their foredeck with flashlights beaming into our porthole. GET UP - LET'S GO.
I've never been so impressed at Ziggy's response to this "trauma" situation. I head to the bridge, Ziggy tries to fend off the other vessel who obviously had dragged her anchor through the harbour and into Windancer.
"Raise the anchor" is the call, Ziggy jumps to action in the dark night, and within moments, "CLANK CLANK CLANK" is the sound as our new Danforth anchor is hauled abard. "Anchor's UP" is the word from the foredeck, and I shift both engines into forwardand move Windancer slowly out into deeper water in the bay.
"OHLA OHLA OHLA" is what I hear, and as I look to astern of Windancer, I realize that we have not only hooked the other vessel's anchor, but that we are dragging the other boat with us as we exit the achorage!!! "Ziggy - too the helm" as I rush to the bow and release of anchor chain. Over the bow sprit, and while balancing on the bridle, I lower myself down and grab the stranger's anchor and free it from ours.
We're free - "Gracios, Gracios" we hear from our neighbouring vessel and newfound friend. Break time - take a breath - what now....
It's 0300, we planned on sailing to Palma at dawn - "SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?" Calmer minds prevail and we settle into a few more hours of sleep securely moored to a purchase bouy! The morning comes and we sail to our nest destination - PALMA!
PS - No damage was sustained by Windancer except for a tired crew!!!