A New Year Begins
17 May 2018 | Catania - Circolo Nautico
Geoff /Sunny with a cooling breeze
15th May 2018
French detour then Marina di Riposto to Catania
In planning this year's return to the Med., Linda broke with tradition forsaking Marseille in favour of Bordeaux for her annual French language course. Arriving in Bordeaux on 22nd April, we spent an enjoyable week in the city. Linda found a pleasant apartment near the banks of the River Garonne, close to the centre and we were able to enjoy most of what the city had to offer.
We visited the picturesque village of St Emilion some 40 minutes away by train. The medieval village contained some impressive fortifications as well as the usual ecclesiastical buildings including a monolithic church carved out of a limestone cliff surmounted by a huge bell-tower. Once you had recovered from the 196 step climb, the commanding view over the rolling countryside and the famous vineyards made it worthwhile. Disappointingly we were too late for the last of the day's guided tours of the underground church, billed as a 'must see'. We reached the heights but were unable to plumb the depths!
A good late lunch was sufficient consolation and I am reliably informed that the wine was very acceptable!
Bordeaux is well worth a return visit, particularly as Linda found the language school an improvement on Marseille.
We flew to Riposto, via Catania Airport, on 30th April and booked into accommodation for a week to enable us to get the boat ready. We had hired a car in anticipation of some sightseeing but only managed to find time to drive to nearby Taormina, built atop a limestone outcrop. The original settlement predates both Greek and then Roman settlements, providing a safe retreat from sea borne invaders and pirates. The limestone base and its height preserved the town from eruption and earthquake. There are extant remains of both Greek and Roman buildings including an impressively large amphitheatre built by the Romans on the remains of the previous Greek one. The narrow streets contain many fine Renaissance buildings. Lots of history!
Taormina became a winter retreat for the rich and famous in the 20th century resulting in many luxury hotels and houses built on the lower slopes.
The summit commands fine views of Etna and the adjacent coastline. It is well worth a visit but beware, we visited in May, out of the main season, but due to the 'cruise ship curse' (there were two anchored in the bay below) and local tourists the streets were jammed and the road approaches narrow and congested. Still worth it!
Back to the more mundane, our departure from Riposto was delayed by necessary repairs to the boat from winter damage, nothing major but requiring a frustrating wait for carpenters and electricians to find time for our rather minor requirements. That said everyone went out of their way to assist us.
Riposto is a working town bereft of tourists and completely unprepossessing. There are some fine buildings but has the air of neglect and underinvestment, common to much of southern Italy. Nevertheless it grew on us through the cheerful help of local people and we got to know a few of them.
Nothing in Italy is quite what it seems. We found that the local garage doubles as a wine shop. Hidden behind the petrol pumps, the proprietor dispensed his home produced wine, both red and white at Euro1.5 per litre (bring your own bottle), which Linda pronounced highly drinkable. That's why our fridge is full.
We eventually left Riposto in the pouring rain on 15th May heading for Catania. We got very wet and cold (would you believe it?) but the trip was only 3 hours so we braved it. We are now in Catania, Sicily's second largest city, accurately described by a fellow English sailor as 'gritty'.
We expect to be here for a few days as there is plenty to explore, very busy during the day and lively at night when the main street is closed to traffic for the usual evening promenade by the locals and tourists alike.
We made an unscheduled return to the UK and arriving back in Catania on 30th May.
Catania divides opinion among the crew of Summertime. As a city it has a certain 'Marmite' aspect. It is easy to hate but there is redemption if you look beyond the obvious.
The city was devastated by an eruption of Etna in 1669 inundating the city with lava, in 1693 an earthquake destroyed what was left. The city was rebuilt in the 18th century on the same spot, in the words of Dr Johnson, a triumph of hope over experience?
Extensive use of black solidified lava as a building material has resulted in a very dark and sombre look to the city, offset by lighter coloured marble employed in the facades of a number of important buildings. The city was rebuilt in the baroque style and has many fine churches and palaces as well as a medieval fortress.
There is a daily market just behind the Duomo square which sells all kinds of produce. It is quite an assault on the senses to experience the chaos, noise, smells and sheer variety of produce on open sale. No sign of health regulations here!