Santa Maria di Leuca
39 47.8'N:018 21.7'E
After 8 hours of beam reaching across the Ionian Sea we finally arrived in Italy. Our first port of call was the little tourist town of Santa Maria di Leuca. We headed into the marina and found there was only one space for a catamaran. We took it. After squaring Freebird away we headed to shore. Walking the esplanade, our first stop was for............PIZZA! Hey, we're in Italy. Judy found the post office and Dave found a cappuccino. We headed for the port office to pay for our moorage. This turned out to be our only night at the dock here. 65€/night. The next day we anchored outside the marina where we hung out for a few days, swimming, and enjoying the view of the shore. During the day a multitude of small power boats would anchor all around us. Their decks were covered with scantly clad natives. They were doing the same as us, mostly watching each other. Everybody was on holiday and having a good time. In the evening we shared the anchorage with just a few other cruising boats. About midnight we would attempt sleep accompanied by the pounding drone of three competing disco clubs on the beach. We knew it was dangerous out here...
39 05.2'N:017 07.5'E
Next, we crossed the gulf of Taranto (arch of the boot) 9 hours motoring. We were in company with our friends, Tim and Rose on board Rendezvous Cay. Having had a dose of marina fees we opted to anchor in a shallow corner of the commercial port. It was hot, sticky and a foul rotten egg odor permeated the place. Dave and Tim took off in our dinghy for the town. We were hoping to acquire sim phone cards for our cell phones and internet modems. We parked the dinghy in a corner and climbed the high wall to the quay above. Heading into town we asked along the way "dovey vodafone per favore" People would laugh and point. After about an hour we found the store in the piazza. With our communications problems solved we headed back to the dinghy. It was getting dark. Guess what? The Dinghy is GONE! This is a bad thing. With adrenalin pumping we start frantically looking around the large isolated quay. A man in a sparkling white navy uniform is talking to some people close by. We approach and notice they have our dinghy tied up nearby. Making enquiring gestures (language barrier), I indicate that it is my dinghy. We are given a stern lecture, none of which we understood. Standing like bad puppies, we waited while a phone conversation ensued. Finally we were told "Go!" Without any prompting we jumped in the dinghy and headed for our boats about a mile away. After a restless stinky night we departed Crotone the next morning at daybreak.
38 19.65'N:016 16.02'E
A day sail brings us to Roccella Ionica. Since there is no anchorage close by, we reluctantly head for the marina inside the breakwater. We squeezed in a slip with inches to spare. We have big balls now so we don't worry as much as we used to. We bought some big ball fenders (remember Santorini??) that help us cushion our arrival and departures. If you have big balls, you have less stress in marinas. This is a nice marina and it's only 20€/night! Score!
We can tolerate this for a while. The bikes are assembled and we head out for exploration. A three kilometer pedestrian/bike way heads along the shore toward town. Again, it's summer and it's scorching. The beaches are wall to wall umbrellas with smoldering Italian tourists underneath. That evening we head straight to the restaurant close ashore. Pizza! The best we've had in a long time. They sell it by the meter and you can order one half or more meters of pizza. One family had the length of the entire table from end to end with a single pizza. Later we notice that the area on the esplanade is being set up with hundreds of tables. We ask, what's up?. Every night people come from miles away to eat here. A typical night they will feed 900 hungry Italian pizza connoisseurs. Wow! Lucky us. We just have to walk down the dock. We are still getting accustomed to the late dinner hour thing here. Typically people don't show up for dinner before nine and then most restaurants are just barely starting to fill. Things don't really get going until after ten. Everybody comes out, couples, kids, families, rollerbladers, ....EVERYBODY. Music often goes till three/four AM.
We made some new friends here. One morning on my (judy's) 3rd try to buy a cooked chicken, (bet you didn't know you had to sign up on a waiting list the day before, me neither) Well, this wonderful woman explains patiently to me, mostly in Italian, to sign up for the next day). I do. Then the next morning as we sit having "our coffee" (fresh OJ) and can't find the post office, that same angel is sitting next to us! She is back to our rescue again. Pina spoke some English, but called her husband Mauro to explain the route. While we sat visiting with her, Mauro and their two delightful daughters arrived. They are all dressed in their beach gear. So Cute!! We invited them to the boat later that evening. The affair turned into dinner when Pina took Judy and brought back home cooked local food. Yum! Judy was in heaven when little Giorgie & Marta fell asleep on her lap. We really enjoyed getting to know them and look forward to connecting in the future. Wow! We have our own real Italian friends!..
With Mount Etna erupting on the horizon Freebird sailed crossed the Strait of Messina. We anchored under the lee of the cape.
Visible on the cliff above was the old city of Taormina. The beach in front of Freebird was again covered with colorful umbrellas. The next morning while there was still room on the beach we landed our dinghy on the steep pebble rock beach. A short walk to a tunnel takes us underground to the street above and bus/rail station. We jump on the bus. The short trip follows switchbacks up the sides of the cliffs with stunning views of the Ionian Sea below. Old villas cling to the steep terrain with their bougainvillea covered walls, flower gardens, and grape arbors. From the bus we walked into the old town. After a coffee stop we were treated to the charm of the quaint shops, galleries, and narrow alleyways with peek-a-boo glimpses of Freebird far below waiting patiently. Looking up still higher is the ever present medieval castle towering above. We found a sidewalk restaurant for lunch before heading home for the day.
In a few days we returned to conquer the walk up to the castle in the blazing heat. Then we cooled off in the botanical gardens that cling to the edge of the cliff. After a late lunch we decided to walk home down the cliff side trail.
From our anchorage we watched trains come in and out of the station almost on the hour. So we got the idea to try out a little train travel. The next day we jumped on a train heading to Catania. Situated between the Ionian Sea and the slopes of Mount Etna Catania is Sicily's second largest city. It's a World Heritage site mostly known for its Baroque architecture. The one hour train ride was uneventful. On one side there was the Ionian Sea and on the other was Mount Etna. From the station we walked to the Pizaza Duomo. We could see a crowd gathering around the Cathedral. It was Patron Saint Day and everybody was decked out in their identifying white smocks, hats etc. We strolled along with the crowd and just enjoyed the spectacle. The fish market was a highlight. Every kind of fish was on display with the shop keepers screaming to come, buy at their shop. A cornucopia of sights, sounds and......smell. Not a bad smell....just a fish smell. We found a cafeteria for a quick lunch then we were back on another train to circumnavigate Mount Etna. This 5 hour jaunt took us into the country side and through small villages all around the mountain. The train was ancient and didn't have air conditioning. All in all, maybe not the best way to spend a hot day especially when for some reason???? we had to get off the train, take a bus & then get back on a different train??? When we were almost all the way back around we found a closer station and caught the train back to Freebird in time for a cool dip and a sundowner.
37 03.48'N: 015 12.13'E
In the late afternoon we rounded the headland with it's castle and slid into the large protected bay of Porto Grande, Syracuse.
It's still very hot. We spot Rendezvous Cay, Blue Moon, and Sonrisa anchored in the bay with us. All three of these boats sailed through Pirate Alley last year with us. It's sundowners and treats on Freebird. We blah, blah, blah until we are past ready to head into town for a meal and some more blah,blah,blah. We missed our team leaders though from Dream Keeper, Gar & Nicole along with Sundance, David & Betty that were in our "squadron".
We spent our time here doing the usual wandering and looking at ancient wonderments. (Museums, cathedrals, galleries, buildings, etc) I won't bore you with all that.
One peaceful Sunday morning we were minding our own business sitting in the cockpit reading when..... Blam-O! We jump up to find a large catamaran has drug anchor and slammed into our bows. The person on board doesn't seem to have a clue what's going on, she just stands there. Dave raced off in the dingy and jumped aboard and trys to ask what's up. She is Russian and doesn't English. She has been left on the boat for a week while the owner is away in London. Judy is franticly placing fenders (big balls) in strategic locations. Somehow we manage to avoid any damage. Judy calls on the radio for assistance (no one comes up) and then phones Tim on Rendezvous Cay. He arrives quickly and we figure out how to start the engines and up anchor. We spend an hour re-anchoring the loose boat. All is well, no harm done. Judy will take a few hours to lower her heart rate.
Thursday we headed into the "Patrone" to complete our application for Italian Residency. "He's on vacation, come back Monday" Okay. He's an advocate that helps people like us work through the bureaucratic messiness
While waiting for Monday we take a short bus trip to another "World Heritage City" ~ Noto. We are getting pretty used to our wandering the streets and sidewalk cafés for lunch. None of the stores are open after 1 when it is so hot out. This town is known for having some well preserved Baroque buildings. They are truly impressive.
We returned to the "Patrone" on Monday and he filled out our paperwork to send to Rome. The next stop was the post office. We entered the crowded lobby and took a number. An hour and a half later we stepped up to the window to be told " Come back at two" (In Italian). Okay, so now it's eleven thirty. We come back at two to the same crowded lobby and wait for our window to become empty. We weren't sure if we should use our old number, just walk up ahead of everybody, or get a new number.... Hmm... We ask one of the other customers and she grabs our ticket and rolls it into a ball and tosses it in the trash..... Hmm... We walk to the counter and all hell breaks loose. Everybody starts shouting and the counter person remembers us and explains that we are returning with an earlier number.... More yelling ....Then the Postmaster finally comes out and really shouts and things quiet down. All this is in Italian so we are immune, except we can feel their eyes staring at the back of our heads. But, we sure didn't want to wait for another two hours ..... Exciting!
One evening we spotted a Chinese food restaurant and couldn't resist a try. Not bad, but then nothing is ever as good as your old home town Chinese restaurant...
It's our last day at sea as we sail to Ragusa di Marina. We have reserved a space for Freebird for the next 8 months. We're going to take a break from cruising for a while and live as comfortably as possible on the boat. We'll have: lots of hot water, lots of cold water, electricity, internet, a nice little town with bakeries, beaches, friends, and maybe even a car to explore Europe..... or at least Sicily to start with.