Cruising in a Pandemic

Gratitude in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily Photo by Martin Horn Lunara

Live aboard cruising in the midst of a pandemic

When we planned to live overseas in Europe for several years, we had dreamed of long lazy days soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine while dining on several hours long midafternoon meals of pasta, formaggio, bread and gelato. Farthest from our minds were the hours which I have spent in meal prep and serving aboard Gratitude – only catching glimpses of the Italian delicacies normally just outside our gangway in a non-pandemic year.

Living on a boat in a foreign land during a pandemic; while in many ways is preferable to living in a land home, looks a bit different than the life we had imagined While we had hoped to eat our way through Italy, the only Italian food we eat not prepared by my American hands, is take away pizza offered at the corner store. Carefully planned “road trips” remain unchartered by the Gratitude crew during lockdown and educational field trips including an Opera in Sicily, have been supplanted by entertainment discovered in our own salon.

Jack and I making tiramisu during a zoom class with Cookingintuscany

Not deterred by a pesky pandemic, we dig in and work to find experiences that, if not expressly provided for by our host country, at least are enhanced by proximity. Hiking on beautiful paths and logged by other hiking enthusiasts has become a new favorite weekend activity. We love a hiking app called Wikiloc.com which allows us to follow paths left behind by others or to blaze our own trail and upload it. One can choose where to hike, either through some of the fantastic Medieval villages with awe inspiring Gothic architecture, or find a path in nature- through streams, up mountains, or along ancient ruins.

Whether you are a cruiser living in a foreign land, of just riding out the “storm” at home waiting for a chance to throw off your own lines, here are some suggestions for ways to embrace and learn about a foreign land or local culture while all of the museums and opera houses are closed, and tours are cancelled.

We are homeschooling our son, so most of what we have discovered was born of the desire to offer enrichment far from the US shores. Lucky for us, we have made friends with other boat-schooling families who have shared their resources and ideas – some of which appear here.

This group is the most fantastic antidote to loneliness in a pandemic! Thank you Bella and Gambler Crews for the best winter ever! Phillipa taking the photo

Which brings me to my first recommendation: Find friends with whom you can chat over a cup of coffee before the solitude slips into loneliness. In addition to making connections with others who are likely feeling similarly, you can share resources that one may not find on their own. Recently our son was out skateboarding and ran into another American. Shocked to hear, not only his own language but also his own accent (lots of British ex-pats here in Italy) he stopped to talk. That short meeting on the side of the road lead the American to stop by Gratitude, which then led to a new friendship. You never know from where a new friendship will bloom.

1) Many world class museums are offering virtual tours including the British Museum, Louvre, Rijksmuseum, and many others. If you are finding yourself in need of another educational resource for yourself of your child, a simple google search will yield a veritable treasure trove of cultural and artistic artifacts from around the world. Many of these works of art are showcased in cooperation with Google Arts and Culture, which allow the images to be shown in great resolution and with the ability to zoom in, right from the comfort of your own home.

2) If you are a fan of the arts, many local ballet companies, as well as opera houses are offering tickets for live streamed events. During the Holiday season, we purchased tickets for a Bocelli concert performed live from the Teatro Regio di Parma opera house in Parma, Italy. While we certainly would have preferred to watch the concert in person, viewing it in the salon of Gratitude was a reasonable substitute. Friends of ours purchased tickets to the Birmingham Ballet performance of the Nutcracker. We don’t really think the holiday has begun until we have watched the Nutcracker, so viewing the performance was just the thing to get the season started. Many shows are being offered via the Royal Opera House and countless other organizations, though with a reduced cast. Still, during these incredibly difficult times, it is not only important to support the arts, but also continue enjoying cultural and personal pursuits which bring so much happiness to our lives – even if offered a bit differently.

3) While we had imagined learning how to cook beautiful Italian meals in local kitchens, our only experience of a local cooking class happened over the summer in Tuscany. Not deterred, the innovative woman who shared her Grandmother’s recipes with us on that trip, continues to share tips and tricks for preparing beautiful Italian meals with simple and “easy to source” ingredients via zoom classes twice a month. For more information on this wonderful Italian cooking class visit cookingintuscany.com.
Italian food not your cup of tea, there are countless cooking classes available through too many sources to count. What better way to spend a pandemic than to learn how to prepare beautiful meals right in your own home?

4) Ready to get traveling? There are several travel companies including http://www.tauck.com who offer free live travel webinars. We have watched expert presentations on Pompei, Mozart and we are looking forward to a presentation on Egypt. All live talks are offered free of charge and are just what those itchy traveling feet of ours need when we just can’t wait to get moving again.

5) Want to make this time tied to the dock matter? Look into your own yacht and cruising associations for lectures on everything from weather to destinations on the itinerary next year. An incredible resource for free classes is: http://www.meted.ucar.edu which include hundreds of courses on everything from weather to radar theory – essentially anything related to geoscience.

6) And finally, while your church may not have a live stream service, most faiths have a church service that is streamed. We are fortunate that our Episcopal church streams live services every Sunday which allows us to attend “mass” with friends from home. In addition to stmarys-stuart.org offering free services online, they also provide various outreach programs including many other uplifting programs which they offer free as part of their community outreach. 4,000 miles away from our home church we were worshipping and celebrating Christmas with friends right from the comfort and safety of our salon here on Gratitude.

And finally a true highlight of our time in Marina Di Ragusa has been our Italian lessons in the home of a bellisima local woman. Married with 2 precious bambini, she teaches Italian to several families in the marina. Last week, to celebrate the beginning of Carnevale and also Valentines day she made chocolate with Jack. Everything is a lesson so we learned the various words associated with the cooking. I hope that learning Italian in the home of a family in Sicily is a memory that Jack keeps dear forever, I know we certainly will. Thank you Serena xo

These are just a few of the programs which have made our time tied to the dock in the midst of a pandemic more enjoyable. While your list will look completely different, there are many programs worthy of your time while you waiting to get cruising again.

YEAR END REVIEW, 2020

Christmas cookies 2020

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Marina di Ragusa and Caltagirone, Sicily

It is December 29th and we have just celebrated our 2nd Christmas aboard Gratitude and living overseas. The end of the year is such a great opportunity to take stock and see where we have been and examine where we wish to go. I think you would have to be a monk living on a mountainside to have remained unaffected by the events of 2020. Certainly, there isn’t a person living in the modern world who can say it had no effect on them, and it is a personal belief of mine that in the way that many reflect on their own lives in terms of major life events, ie “before marriage” or “before children”, we as a world will refer to this as “after Covid”.

Jack dressed for “Church” on Gratitude

While some of the fallout from Covid, speaking purely in personal terms, has resulted in no change whatsoever, such as homeschooling and living together 24/7, some of the changes have even been positive ones such as little crowds in many tourist destinations. I am, without question, becoming a better cook, though that could also be the result of living aboard in a foreign land trying to replicate foods (bagels for example) that Jack is missing. But more than likely it is the pursuit of new and better examples of local food when restaurants all around us are closed.

Jack and I making Tiramisu with friends from home on Zoom

Living on a boat in a foreign land in a pandemic has its advantages but it is not always easy. Immigration challenges coupled with the added bureaucracy of Covid tests and travel restrictions has things more complicated and, let’s face it, eating the local food is a true highlight of travel that we have been missing. This stretch of lock down has resulted in museum closures as well, and even restrictions on travel between villages.

Relationships. I wonder to what extent relationships have changed during Covid. When we left the US, we worried about our friendships and relationships back home and how being away would affect them. We wondered what friendships would develop while we were traveling and if we would be lonely. I think 19 months is long enough to gather the necessary evidence to declare that our dear friendships are as rock solid as they ever were. That is not to say that we aren’t missing friends or that they haven’t evolved into a new version of themselves, but they are solid. Many friends and family had plans in place to visit prior to Covid and those plans were postponed, as were our plans to go back “home,” so, the way that we maintain friendships has changed. We text more, but we still talk. We email photos and we even zoom and facetime. I (Laurie) am taking a live zoom cooking class with my dearest friends back in the US, which has not only created an intentional activity to do together, but I’m also sharing it in our own galley with new friendships made here in Sicily. And finally, we still “attend” church very often with our community back home via live stream.

But I think that a pandemic, or any huge life change for that matter, helps to clearly define friendships vs. acquaintances. In the midst of a pandemic, your friends will always call, always check on you and try to find a way to safely see you. But acquaintances will move silently away from you, remaining friendly yet slowly slipping away. Moving overseas we have seen near and dear friends move heaven and earth to maintain connections with us while we have also witnessed acquaintances slowly lose touch. In our cruising life we have made friends and we have had drinks with acquaintances. That is not to say that if I found myself in the same bar/restaurant with an acquaintance I wouldn’t stop and have a drink with them, just that maybe I wouldn’t change our cruising plans to ensure a rendezvous. Acquaintances are wonderful and super important, but they are not quite the life blood that true friendships are.

Which is why our new friendships, which we have recently developed here in Ragusa, have been so wonderful. Everyone with children who reads this will understand that just because your kids are friends, it doesn’t mean that you will be friends with their parents and vice versa. But it is truly a gift when whole families make a connection. Friendships have so many benefits (especially in a pandemic) but one of the loveliest benefits for a cruising family with an only child is the ability to work through disagreements in a relationship with another child because your child wants to. There are times when we meet someone with whom the connection is simply not worthy of the effort to work through the differences. Times when the values or the interests are not in alignment for whatever reason. In these times, it just becomes not worth the energy to work through the disagreement to arrive at a deeper and more meaningful connection. Especially when it is likely that one or both of you will be moving on and a future rendezvous unlikely. But then you meet someone with whom the values and interests are so closely aligned that minor disagreements are worthy of the effort to work through to a happier resolution. Watching your child making compromises and genuinely caring about the feelings of the other and working compassionately toward solutions to disagreements is a huge gift for a parent worried that their child isn’t getting enough social time with peers.

We have truly enjoyed this holiday, perhaps more than any other in our life, and yet the only people we saw on Christmas day was each other. Italian lockdown rules required that for the 24,25,26 we were not permitted to leave the boat for any reason other than health, safety or work. We have another lockdown coming on Thursday for the New Year and then 1 (hopefully) final lockdown a week after for a religious holiday. Working within these guidelines, we have had a children’s party and gift exchange before the lockdown and several hikes this month, both before and after the lockdown. Technology has permitted us to watch the Birmingham Ballet (England) to perform a paired down but no less beautiful version of the Nutcracker via taped performance. We have watched The Christmas Carol monologue streamed and performed brilliantly, and possibly most importantly, we watched our own church at home “live” at the service we would have attended with dear friends on Christmas Eve. Earlier in the month we watched a live Christmas performance of Bocelli in the Palma Opera house. So, we have had our share of culture albeit from the comfort of our salon.

So yes, this is not exactly the cruising year we had planned but it has been an adventure nonetheless and we wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

The Fearless Five!

To briefly recap 2020:

We celebrated the new year Jan 2020 in Lagos, Portugal then watched with the rest of the world as borders began closing along with shops, museums and restaurants.

Permitted to leave in June, 2020, we hit the ground running and cruised to: Gibralter for Jack’s birthday, Cartegena, Spain followed by Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca (The Balearic Islands), Sardinia, Tunisia, Siracusa, Marina di Ragusa, Sicily resulting in a total of 1,741 miles for 2020 on Gratitude.

With new restrictions going into place together with weather changing in the Med and Immigration woes, we traveled by train, plane, bus and car to Rome, Portofino, Cinque Terre, Florence, Pisa, and Castagneto Carducci.

Since arriving in Marina di Ragusa, we have re-doubled our efforts in school, begun Italian language lessons and taken road trips to several baroque towns. We are arranging to have long term maintenance on Gratitude when she comes out of the water hopefully later in January. Items on the list include bottom paint, wax entire boat, replace Vacuflush heads with Tecma, varnish the rails/table, replace all exterior cushions and replace the washer and dryer. While Gratitude is at the spa, we hope to travel to Mt. Etna and see snow as well as several other towns en route. We are busily making plans for next years’ cruising on the East side of the Med including spending the summer next year traveling to the Lakes and Venice of Italy, then around the top of the Eastern med to Croatia and the Dalmatian coast ending up for the winter in Montenegro.

Before we left the US, we had many friends/family ask “for how long will you be gone?” That question remains with no clear answer in site, but we all feel a bit closer to this life than we do our “old” life. That is to say, – Not anytime soon.

So, with an eye toward a (much) freer 2021, hoping that we can see, in person, old friends, new friends and make firmer connections to the countries we visit through museums and restaurants, glorious restaurants!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Wintering in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily

The Beach at Marina di Ragusa

Sometime in the early to mid-October, we made it back to Siracusa and Gratitude and prepared for the final short leg of our summer cruise – Siracusa-Marina di Ragusa.

Having never been to Marina di Ragusa, we were unsure what would greet us when we arrived but most of our research of other blogs and internet searches indicated that at least two of our primary considerations would be met.

Settling in for a winter, we often try to achieve what we are unable to while moving from marina to marina all summer long. First and foremost, we look for a strong live-aboard community. We want to find a place where we can connect with new and/or old friends. We want to feel a part of the local community, as though we aren’t just passing through but rather actually making friends – impacting others and having our lives impacted. One never knows to what extent – large or small- we will make those connections at the outset. But here we are, nearly 2 months into our winter home here, and I am only now getting around to catching the blog up with our new home.

Within days of our arrival, we made friends with whom we have enjoyed meals, walks in the woods, and short breaks of tea and cake. This beautiful location has provided an ideal backdrop for our winter studies of Italian and just getting caught up on Jack’s 4th grade curriculum in general. We found a lovely Italian teacher who gives all three of us lessons twice per week. In addition to Italian lessons, Jack is taking sailing lessons twice per week and loving it. Through sailing, like many in a new sport, he has made even more friends – some of whom don’t speak English and of course, Jack is only learning Italian. Out of these new friendships a whole new wave of experiences is washing over us. As an only child Jack has had the liberty of having his own way more often than not. Now with new friends he is learning new lessons in getting along, working together, resolving conflict and sharing joys and experiences with other boat kids with whom they share so many things in common. As parents we are all feeling a bit adrift for the first time. So accustomed to living in a small space, all of us together 24/7 – it is weird to look around and find the boat quiet – no Jack in site – off playing with his friends. Laughing with the other boat Moms and Dads we have discovered we are all experiencing this same transition. In this community, the kids can scooter or bike ride or run and play on the rocks together for hours – just was we did when we were kids. It is completely safe, monitored constantly by another 100 or so boats with live- aboards on them. My heart is so full of joy that in the year 2020 my child can find several playmates to play out doors with, none of whom have cell phones or video games and all of whom have similar values and experiences to share.

We celebrated Halloween getting dressed up and the Marina slip holders embraced our children as though they had children of their own walking the pontoons. One lovely American (thank you Susan and Tom) even made home -made caramel apples, while on another pontoon, someone had set out a “bobbing for clementines” game for the children.

We shared our Thanksgiving feast – giving thanks for new friends; old friends -and family who were celebrating 4000 miles away, and in general just feeling profoundly blessed for the circumstances in which we find ourselves this year. 4 different countries were represented at our table this year. While I would have loved to invite several Italian families to join us – particularly our friends from Luise Yachting Agency who have done and continue to do so much for us, and Serena, our Italian teacher and her family, we were reluctant, due to the Covid measures in place. The families who were present were people with whom our children play ever single day and if any of us gets anything, be it a sniffle or worse, we are likely all getting it.

We have continued to cook with cookingintuscany.cc and loving it. Last week Jack and I, together with several friends from home, (Hi Jennifer, Tracy, and Anne) made Pasta Fagioli. Another friend from England just joined the club (hi Emma), and Alec’s cousin from Denmark is planning to join (hi Catharina). Today 2 other friends from the marina are coming to cook in our galley and learn how to make home-made pasta. It is so cool to be learning to make pasta, learning to speak Italian and living in our own home, all at the same time here in Italy. But also wonderful is that even during lockdown and spanning different continents we are able to connect with one another through food, glorious food.

Finally, the other criteria by which we choose a winter home is the availability of groceries and restaurants/café’s a bike ride away.

There are several grocery stores as well as a traditional Italian fruit and veggie market on Tuesdays, and while it isn’t like the typical enormous variety one may find in London or Miami, they are a wonderful example of what one should eat – very little prepackaged or convenience foods, limited crackers, cookies etc. but full of fresh and gorgeous fruits and vegetables grown locally – an delicious selection of cheeses and dairy -but what is made locally – not so much stuff from other countries. So, this brings me to a comment a reader made this past week on the blog:

She said that, and I’m going to quote her here “I found your approach and attitude slightly, yet embarrassingly, quite American.”

Reading an unbiased opinion from someone unknown to you gets you thinking. I doubt she is a regular reader because I have, on several occasions, mentioned our attempts – though not always successful- at trying to see things and enjoy things just as they are, without judgement. But clearly, despite one’s greatest efforts to not judge or compare, I guess we all do that to some extent. This brings to mind a favorite quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt – “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I’m really not sure which item I approached that was off putting or “American” – I’m guessing it was my comments about the cost of a cappuccino and Aperitivo in Portofino. Sometimes I share an observation which I believe may be helpful to cruisers following in our wake, just as I would do in a café talking about my experiences or traveling on a train sharing with other travelers what to expect in a given area. Sometimes I make an observation as a way of showing the ways in which I have grown over the past 19 months. For example, the lack of packaged foods was an early challenge for me to overcome. Learning how to make beans, pancakes, brownies, bagels, and now pasta, among many others was an opportunity to grow. When I talk of these differences it is not to judge them either good or bad – but rather to share how cooks and moms in Italy prepare food and feed their families differently than we do in America. And even when we do find ourselves back in America, I’ll likely continue to make food without any of the pre-packaged and convenience items I used to depend on entirely. Ill likely continue to hang my laundry to dry in the warm sunshine rather than have it consume vast amounts of energy spinning in a dryer. In any case, I appreciate the feedback and opportunity for self- examination.

But I digress…

Covid measures have been lightened (believe it or not) this week. There is a tier -system- as in many countries in Europe right now. Brilliant, really in that it allows for regions to be treated individually -based on the numbers in a particular citta or commune. Here in Sicily, we were in the Orange zone – restricted from leaving our individual city and all cafes, bars, restaurants and many shops all museums closed. Just last week we went into the Yellow zone which meant many cafes and restaurants opened back up, though they still must close by 1800 to table service and close entirely at 2200. All of Italy will be locking down with more strict measures for the Christmas holiday and day or 2 before and after. It is still uncertain what that means for us exactly. We have continued to enjoy walks and bike rides outside (with a mask) and take away pizza so good it should have its own name.

MAINTENANCE

High on Alec’s list for a winter home is the availability of Marine services. We have found a boat yard to do some need winter maintenance. I would like to have this coincide with some trips further afield (an overnight trip to Palermo comes to mind). But while I view Gratitude’s trips to the boat yard for maintenance more like a spa vacation for the boat, Alec views it like a trip to the hospital and he likes to be there every minute of the day to supervise anyone who has their hands on our precious “magic carpet’.

A few of the items on the “TO-DO” LIST This winter:

Pressure Clean and paint the bottom
Detail entire boat
Replace all heads from Vacuflush to Tecma
Replace washer and dryer (the dryer has been out of service for several months and we are replacing the washer as a preventative measure)
Remove, replace, inspect all Generator exhaust elbows
Replacing all cushions and covers for outside furniture flybridge and aft deck. (The cushions and covers are original from our purchase nearly 3 years ago. The cushions are coming apart inside and it is time for them to be replaced)

The sailmaker who will do the work on the cushions. Note the brilliant way they do this with the seamstress in the floor

There is far more to Marina di Ragusa in particular and Sicily in general than I am able or prepared to dedicate to this blog post. I’m approaching this post strictly from the standpoint of our winter home. Suffice to say, we will be making regular trips once Covid permits, to what we hope will be ALL of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the gorgeous Island of Sicily. On those trips we will be checking back in and giving more specific information from a tourist/ traveler standpoint. Stay Tuned!

Stunning Ragusa, a UNESCO world Heritage site

Tuscany – A tour of Italy part 3

A tour of Italy part 3 – TUSCANY

Chicca in the olive trees

Since leaving the US and after traveling to numerous countries, islands and towns, we have loved each stop in its own way, but never felt “at home” in any of them. This is the first time in 19 months we felt immediately as though we could set up housekeeping and feel right at home.

At the beginning of the summer, I saw an Instagram post from my cousin who extolled the virtues of the Tuscany region and “Cooking In Tuscany” in particular. Herself an avid traveler, biker and free spirit, I knew that if she was recommending it, we would love it. I reached out to Chicca Maione, the co-owner and Chef extraordinaire and asked if she would be doing cooking classes over the summer when we hoped to be there. Unfortunately, Covid prevented my friend from the US, who was planning to accompany me, from arriving. Our family immigration issues coupled with rapidly changing weather in the Northern Med all threatened to prevent the meeting. After a bit of prodding from Alec however, knowing how much I enjoy cooking and was looking forward to a class in Tuscany, we decided to take a day from our packed tour of Italy schedule and drive to the cooking class.

Approximately 1 hour from Florence, we rented a car and enjoyed a stunning drive to Castagneto Carducci, just a few km from the Mediterranean coast.

The entire drive was something out of a coffee table book on Tuscany! Gorgeous!

Chicca and Arnaud live in an idealic 18th century farmhouse straight out of a picture book with about 20 olive trees separating them from the closest neighbor. When we first arrived, we were greeting by Freda, one of the house pets who, though a puppy, looked like a fully-grown Lab to us. She is the friendliest creature, and a perfect ambassador for the experience.
Given our rapidly growing kinship, it is a wonder we cooked anything on that first day, and if not for Chicca (pronounced Kee – ka), keeping us focused and on task, we could have just sat and talked the day away.

But we were there to cook so we quickly washed hands and set about making our first and most delicious tasting fettuccine any of us have ever eaten. We also made Gnocchi and the simplest of desserts, a ricotta fluff with fresh figs on top.

In the course of getting to know one another, Chicca told us that “her” Americans who help her with the olive harvest couldn’t make it due to Covid. Harvesting olives and witnessing the creation of the liquid gold we call olive oil has been a bucket list item for Alec for years. Learning that the harvest was to take place in 2 days, it was easy math for 2 retired people to cancel the flights home and add “olive picker” to the resume.

So, we raced back to Florence, crammed in several more sights and museums and raced back to COOKING WITH TUSCANY just in time for the olive harvest. Actually, the harvest got started at 8 and we arrived probably closer to 11 but we worked until sundown that day picking and carefully gathering the olives.

One of the gifts of this experience and a lesson very close to our hearts- is to connect ourselves, and more importantly, Jack, to the food we use to fuel our passions. Spending the day gathering olives from ancient trees, then watching the press, as this prized fruit is turned into nutrient rich, green- grassy, delicious oil, created for all of us, a deep connection and appreciation for this Italian delicacy. So much so, that we have hardly touched butter since arriving in Italy.

Talk about connecting with your food! It tastes better than it looks!

Once, at dinner in Portofino, Jack asked the server for some butter. That request was met with a 5 -minute lecture, from the server, on how healthy olive oil is for the body and how unhealthy butter is. The server eventually brought the butter but who could eat it after that! We had, of course, told Jack the same thing but hearing it from a complete stranger had a monumental effect. He has not really had or asked for butter ever since.

So, picking these gorgeous olives and then tasting and appreciating the fruits of the labor made this a very impactful, and memorable experience. We were compensated with 5 liters of the liquid gold for our efforts – well worth the hours outdoors enjoying the harvest.

Should you find yourself on a trip to Italy, Chicca and Arnaud have the loveliest apartments for rent. Don’t miss an opportunity to stay with Chicca and learn how to cook authentic Italian meals with the recipes from Chicca’s grandmother.

Adapting to the crazy Covid times in which we live, Chicca has begun teaching via Zoom, conducting cooking classes live from her kitchen. Together with friends from the US, Jack and I are continuing the fun and cooking now that we are back on board. There is something so surreal to me about learning to cook authentic meals and learning Italian all while living in Italy. Especially during these Covid times when we all need to be spending more time closer to home and away from crowds. Zoom is so fantastic for allowing these opportunities for enrichment right in the safety and security of our own home. Check out club@cookingintuscany.cc for more information

To find out more about the club or vacations – check out http://www.cookingintuscany.cc

Cooking club or vacations – check it out!!

There is more to this area than olives. The medieval village of Bolgheri, a hamlet of Castagneto Carducci in the province of Livorno is nearby. Touting a museum which explores the world of food and history of the area, foodies can’t miss it. Due to the micro-climate and characteristics of the soil, this area produces some of the most world renown Bordeaux origin wines known as “Super Tuscan” producers. For those who prefer the sea to the mountains, a short 20 minute drive is the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea with a very low key – non touristic vibe.

To be clear, there is truly something for everyone here. Less than a 2 hour drive from Rome, Florence, Siena, and world class food and wine, who could want for anything more?

FLORENCE AND TUSCANY

BOY AM I BEHIND!!!

ICONIC PORTOFINO

I had planned to write about our nearly 3-week road trip through Italy bit by bit, but I expected it to be more timely than this! We have been having so much fun in Marina di Ragusa, Italy getting settled that the past has been harder and harder to write about. Still, it is part of the journal and important so I’m going to get it together now and write a bit about the other fabulous places we visited on the trip. Brevity will dictate that tons will be missed.

PORTOFINO AND CINQUE TERRE

Leaving Rome, we took a 4.5 -hour train ride up the gorgeous Western coast of Italy to Portofino. We had only planned a few days here but extended so that we could take the train back down and explore Cinque Terre. Additionally, we had a day of total wash out – too windy or rainy to do anything at all. In Italy there is a color code system whereby if your town goes “red” you are instructed to stay home – streets closed. While we were in Portofino the color went “red” so we stayed in-doors. Not a bad idea when all of the “cittas” are connected by either train or boat.

All 5 villages are very difficult to reach by car due to the steep and unforgiving mountainous terrain. In fact, getting between the 5 fishing villages known as Cinque Terre is only advised by walking or train. We had a glorious hike between Montorosso and Vernazza taking full advantage of not only the beautiful fall weather, but also the lack of tourists during this Covid time and shoulder season. Hiking between these 2 fishing villages involved encountering about 10 people in 3 hours. Unheard of!

The walk itself was enchanting – imagine walking from vineyard to vineyard through the gardens of adorable farm- houses. At one point, and after climbing straight up for nearly 40 minutes, we heard the most delightful sound of an accordion. Nestled in the vineyard, overlooking the breathtaking Ligurian Sea, was this charming Italian man entertaining visitors with his accordion playing music straight out of a Dean Martin, Amore’ reproduction

The entire area is a national park and a UNESCO heritage site. Italy is home to a whopping 55 UNESCO HERITAGE SITES of which 5 are Natural and 50 are Cultural. The Cinque Terre National Park is comprised of steep paths up and down the mountain connecting the 5 fishing villages. Arriving at a village is a bit as I imagine base camp to be at Everest with hikers milling about and outfitters selling back- packs but the weather was gorgeous and the villages exuding charm that was authentic and delightful. One of the surprises we experienced in Italy in general is that regardless of how “touristy” an area, a marvelous meal can be enjoyed wherever one stops. In most areas of the world it is best to get off the beaten path to find a good meal and certainly don’t plan a gourmet experience in the heart of any tourist attraction but not so in Italy. We were too hungry to go looking for an “out of the way spot” so we decided on a restaurant overlooking the water in Vernazza. I had the best bowl of pasta fagioli soup I have ever eaten. The food here seriously makes me wish I had 2 stomachs.

All of these touristy destinations we enjoyed were fantastic – just to be clear – but even with a lack of people we struggle having to pay 7 Euro in Portofino for a Cappuccino and 45 Euro for a little Aperitivo.

THE 45 EURO APERTIVO:-)

Aperitive in Italy is a delightful tradition of finding a piazza and having a little very low alcohol drink with some small snacks before dinner in the early evening. Alec and I don’t drink so we try to find non-alcoholic beer to accompany our snacks. While we have been very fortunate to find NA beer all over Europe – it is less widely available in the touristy areas. I think it can be said that we don’t love the touristy areas. The server in Portofino was bothered that we didn’t want alcohol and he brought us our non-alcoholic drinks very begrudgingly – and then charged us 45 Euro for the experience. All of this at a time when there were fewer than 20 people in the entire piazza and 5 in total at the restaurant. I would hate to see the service that a full town would bring. So, while we loved the beauty of Portofino, it is definitely a box that has been checked for us.

PISA

So, a couple of bus rides and a train ride and we were in Pisa. We just passed through on our way to Florence, but one simply cannot pass it by and miss seeing the iconic tower, yet another of the 55 UNESCO Heritage sites in this lucky country.

Best known for the current 4 degree lean, the bell tower for the cathedral is perhaps equally interesting because of it’s location not co-located with the cathedral itself. Though the tower began the infamous lean during it’s 12th century construction, it was stabilized in 1990 after the tilt reached 5.5 degrees.

Another amazing meal right at the tower and we are off to collect our rental car for the rest of our time in Italy.

HOLDING UP THE TOWER

FLORENCE

Perhaps the best reason to return to a country after a long absence is due to how our perceptions and interests shift as we age. Not my first visit to Florence, I was here perhaps 25 years ago, but the changes in the city were not nearly as marked as the changes in me during that time.

Which is why, it should come as no surprise, my recollections were so cloudy as to be useless. Moreover, my perceptions and reactions were totally different. I recall “liking” the city and appreciating the vast collection of art that calls Florence home, but this visit left me completely bowled over!

Florence, the capital city in the Tuscany region of Italy, is most certainly best known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. When we were traveling around, I was so tempted to write about our travels in a time line because having left Siracusa, which enjoyed it’s historical “hey day” in the years Before Christ, and then traveling to Rome where we dined on a feast of the Roman Empire era, to finally arrive in Florence, surrounded as we were by medieval and neo-classical architecture, and history, felt so sharp in contrast. In fact, we loved visiting several other wonderful cities’ whose greatest days were enjoyed in Medieval times. Bolgheri and Siena are 2 such great cities and no trip to the Tuscany region would be complete without stopping there. I loved them both and could write a piece on each alone but brevity dictates that I keep moving – but please, if you are reading this contemplating which towns to visit, don’t miss Siena and Bolgheri.

Siena pictured below

But I digress, Florence…

Another UNESCO heritage site, the Historical city of Florence was also ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We had booked an air bnb and typical for my priorities, we were right in the heart of Florence.

Arriving at the front door to the apartment, the locale didn’t quite look like the photos in the booking. Not deterred, we continued in to discover what it most certainly must feel like to sleep in a palace – or a museum. It was extraordinary! Not every experience works so well but we loved our time in Florence in this magical apartment right in the heart of the Renaissance Era.

The front was not at all the palace we walked into – Jack was a bit worried

Home to the Uffizi museum as well as several others including the Galleria dell’ Accademia one can see works displayed by such masters as Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael and others too numerous to note. These were the 2 museums we made it to on this “way to short” trip to Florence.

As with Rome, one can simply meander into a church and discover priceless master works created during the Renaissance.

Portofino

We booked 2 tours here. Time constrained by flights home, cat sitters, and a last- minute trip to pick olives (saving this for another blog post next week) we crammed what should have been a full 1-2 weeks into 2 days. To be sure, I truly did a terrible dis-service to the kind and wonderful Elvis who showed us around. Dragging Jack to one then another museum on a way too rushed trip of this fantastic city – just wore out our poor 10 year- old world traveler. We did get a terrific “dividend” upon wandering into a room in the Uffizzi museum, Jack, exhausted and desperate to have lunch looked up and exclaimed “WOW! I have always wanted to see Botecelli’s Venus!” “Is that an original?”. Shocked, I glanced down at the plaque on the side to see that in fact, it was Botecellis’ Venus. Not entirely sure if this was knowledge that came from his amazing Montessori education until last year, or our homeschooling efforts last year, we were grateful to see that more is sinking in than falling out.

This city should easily have been planned for a week or more, but I just didn’t remember how magnificent it was. Alec and I would desperately love to return for a much longer stay. As with the other destinations – due to Covid, we only had a handful of visitors competing for space in front of the priceless and breathtaking works of art who call Florence home. Jack spent probably 30 minutes admiring “David” from all angles. It is very heartening to watch one’s child appreciating – truly appreciating- something as magnificent as this. I wonder what we would be missing if not for Jack. So much of what we book, see or plan is to give Jack the opportunity for discovery and education but at the “end of the day” Alec and I know that we are the ones getting the benefit and education. Sometimes when I look back at what I would have booked had we not wanted to show Jack something, I realize that those were the things that were the best and not only for the obvious reason of being able to see it or appreciate it through your child’s eyes but also on its own merit.

So – enough said – my next and final post about our 3 -week trip around Italy will be on Castagneto Carducci. I can’t wait to talk about another great love of mine – FOOD!!!

We will be writing about olives, pasta and olive oil!!!

Chicca, Arnaud, Jack and Alec COOKING IN TUSCANY!!

ROME – it wasn’t build in a day and you won’t see it in one either!!

Rome – It wasn’t built in a day and believe me, it will take more than a day to see it!

St Peters Square the night we arrived

Our Immigration challenges newly resolved, we were ready to move on from Siracusa, Italy. The plan was to take Gratitude North to Genoa, then begin a slow and steady trip south ending in Ragusa, Sicily for the winter. But a survey of the weather combined with our previous research of the Med cruising recommendations indicated, we were going to have far less time to make this trip than we had hoped. Watching 1, then another, system work its way across, we decided it was time to consult the Momondo app for flights.

Since we left the US – and in fact many months (possibly years before that) we have not flown anywhere. Strange since Alec and I rarely went more than a week without getting on a plane in our past lives. Now it has been years since we have gone to an airport and I don’t even recall the last time we have flown anywhere. We sold our cars when we left Florida, and while Alec has driven on only a few occasions since we left, I haven’t driven even 1 mile in the nearly 18 months since our departure. We primarily take trains and busses everywhere and closer to home we prefer bikes or walking. Given the time constraints of traveling at 8 knots we decided it was time to go back to the “old ways” or risk missing most of Italy.

The flight from Catania airport on Sicily took 1.5 hours to Rome. There were temperature checks and mandatory face coverings for the duration. The Airbnb in Rome arranged to have a car meet us upon landing and after another 30 minutes (remember no customs or immigration formalities) we were enjoying our first meal in Rome nearly 3 hours after we left the boat. Easy peasy. The Airbnb in Rome was terrific – a wonderful 3-bedroom apartment in a Piazza with views of St. Peters Basilica. It was surreal for me to stand in St. Peters Square on that first night. I believe everyone must feel this – a near disbelief at finally arriving in a place one has only seen in photos and movies countless times before. I don’t know how I have managed 54 years on the planet without making it to Rome before now. I have been to Italy several times – but I think I was just a bit shy after the stories of crowds. Rome is the 3rd most populated commune in the EU and the most populated in Italy. But here we were… Rome. To be sure, what follows of our account will be in contrast to your own experiences given the Covid world in which we live. But I felt very grateful that this was our experience and that I had waited, inadvertently, for this trip. Every place we visited, every photo we took, I was filled with awe and wonder to finally be here in the Eternal City.

Third on the list of the most visited European cities in 2019 (behind London and Paris) – it truly didn’t disappoint. We had planned to “live” onboard about a 30- minute bus ride away but being right in the heart of it all really worked well for helping us to accomplish so much.

A quick word here about the blog and any recommendations you may read here. We don’t advertise through the blog – ever. We don’t earn 1 penny due to the blog. We don’t solicit or receive discounts in exchange for promotion on the blog. We wrote in an earlier piece about the reasons why we do it but just to clear up any questions quickly before recommending things/people/places – we only write to keep a record for ourselves and our 10 year old son of the adventures we are on and also to pay it forward for the hours we spent reading the blogs of others without whom we may never have taken this leap.

My mother, a travel professional for most of her working life (gee, I wonder where I get my wanderlust), recommended the DK Eyewitness book for Rome before we left. Within days of our departure, I bought the Kindle version. I may never go to a major tourist site without an Eyewitness book loaded onto my phone again. No stranger to travel books, I was surprised at the user- friendly nature of this one and the ability to find an attraction, select the google maps link and obtain directions via rail, walk, car or bus anywhere in the guide. So, guidebook in hand and 5 days booked into Rome for our 2 -week holiday, we were off!

There are a million wonderful travel blogs out there and this is not intended to be that so I won’t get too nitty gritty with the details of the sights that we visited but we really packed in a wonderful trip in those 5 days. It is not unusual for me to over-schedule my family on those occasions when we are committed to seeing so much in a short time – this was just such a time. Still – afraid to overwhelm, I tried to stick to 1 large thing per day and let the rest of the day be spontaneous and free.

We began our week at the Capitoline Hill, the symbolic center of the Roman World. The beautiful steps leading up to the Piazza del Campidoglio were designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century. Had we done nothing more but admire the steps, and the Museums from the outside we would have been satisfied but Jack needed to use the rest room urgently – really urgently – so we paid our admission and thus enjoyed at least 2 hours meandering the halls of the Capitoline Museum. Not at all on our list of things to do today- we 3 enjoyed the immense collection of paintings and sculpture. What a terrific reminder to just relax and enjoy the experience. Only because of a need to use the rest room did we make this wonderful discovery and even though we had planned (roughly and loosely) to do something else during this time, none of us was disappointed. At the center of the Piazza is a statue of Marcus Aurelius. We had to pleasure of discovering the original in gold leaf inside of the museum which was moved inside to minimize the damage to the original. Good thing since legend says that when the last of the gold is lost from the statue, the world will end. Yikes…

I swear the guide told Jack to sit atop a 2000 year old column!!!!!

The major thing we had planned for today was a tour of THE COLOSSEUM. I had booked this through Airbnb and we were so in love with our guide. She is an archeologist and intensely knowledgeable about everything in the area. While some guides leave you with a sense that they know everything, but you have learned nothing, she was a teacher and so delightful. All three of us were transformed and as in love with the colosseum as she was. Her info is:
Maria Rita Bertoncini and she can be reached at http://www.visitostiaantica.org
I don’t often share guide info on the blog – but occasionally we find one who is so good at what she/he does, Im happy to recommend them.

On this tour we visited the Forum, Palantine hill and the 3 arches.

Day 2

Having booked a tour of the Vatican and the museums, we wanted to have an easy quiet morning preceding the exhausting afternoon. The tour was 3 hours and included all of the museums, the map rooms, the Sistine chapel, etc. Believe me when I tell you a WEEK is not enough time to see this nearly insane repository of the worlds most beautiful ancient art. There are room upon room full of ancient sculpture, carpets and stunning art work depicting scenes from the bible adorn nearly every wall and frescos occupy even your own mind after spending the day trying in vain to take it all in. It is nearly an assault on the senses seeing as much art in one place – seriously. Intended to be the finale at the end of the tour, we walked into the Sistine chapel and had our breath taken away by the sheer glory of Michelangelo’s work. There is far more written about it than I could ever do justice to here so I will only close this day by saying do some research before you arrive. We had booked a tour called “Pristine Sistine” by a well known tour operator in Rome. I had done this on the advise of a blog that I had read in which the writer receives compensation for tours booked from the link. I have to insert here that I have no issue whatsoever with the YOUTubers and Bloggers getting compensated for their work- but please, if you are booking on the advice of someone who is getting compensation – do your homework first. We booked a very pricey tour which promised a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel before it opened with a lengthy talk about the intricacies. When it became clear that we were not receiving what I had booked, I was told that our tour was exchanged because due to Covid there were no private groups before opening. Our guide then went on to say that it wasn’t necessary anyway because there were no crowds. Well, he was right and there were no crowds. Typically, 40,000 visitors cram the halls of the Vatican and during our visit, there were never more than about 20 people. Still, the difference in price between what we had booked and what we received was substantial and despite multiple emails and requests for the difference to be compensated, we have received nothing. Also, to make matters worse, this tour guide was the least effective of any tour I have booked in the past year (probably close to 15). Just a little reminder here to do your homework when following the advice of someone who is receiving compensation. If this was not enough extravagance for one day, we then went to St. Peters Basilica where mass was going on. It is breathtaking and frankly there are no words to describe it. In fact, we walked into several churches just in passing and I honestly can hardly imagine all of this remarkable art work around every bend. Frescoes and art work adorning every single church in nearly every Piazza. Remarkable.

The lines – empty – getting into the Vatican

Day 3

Piazza Navona was once the social center of Rome. A Baroque Oval Piazza with 3 fountains, aristocracy once strolled the streets and met friends and neighbors or came for an apertivo (a delightful custom of having a very low alcohol beverage accompanied by some small snacks – chips/peanuts/cheese). The most famous fountain in the piazza at the center is called the Four Rivers. It was designed by Bernini. Usually very crowded, it was raining during our visit so there was really nobody around except restauranters’ begging us to come eat – so we did. At and ate… Wow Can I just say that we have not had a mediocre meal since we arrived in Italy.

Day 4 and 5

We saw the Pope in the pouring rain giving his Sunday blessing and we went to Trevi fountain, built in 1762 by Italian architect Nicola Salvi which looks to me like something out of the lost city of Atlantis. Tradition demands an offering into the fountain which will guarantee a return to the city. We did some research and learned that nearly 1.5 million dollars was collected in 2016 but the good news? That money is used to subsidize a supermarket for the needy so dig down and toss those coins away. We saw and the Pantheon and we went to the Piazza Di Spagna and the Spanish Steps.

Plaza Navona 4 rivers fountain

One final thing on our list of places to visit, AMERICA! We all wanted a little taste of America since it has been over a year since we have been home and there is little chance we will make it back this year due to Covid. We went to the American Embassy in Rome. We had hoped to arrange a bit of a tour but everything was very tightly controlled and secure, even more so due to Covid. We did complete paperwork so that they know we are here.

Given that I’m about 500 words over what I like to write on the blog, I’ll leave it here. Rome is an incredibly city and one which we should never have waited so long to see. When Covid is over, give it a week or even 2 – there is so much more to see and 5 days was simply not enough.

In our next post we will cover Portofino, Cinque Terre and Florence.

Siracusa, Italy (Sicily)

What a month it has been! There is way too much to cover in one blog post so I’m going to break it up. While I’m tempted to begin at the end of the trip around Italy since the last week was EPIC, I’m going to begin at the beginning and get to last week eventually.

In our last post you learned about the month- long challenge to get our immigration woes worked out. We thankfully had the help of 3 wonderful professionals at Luise Yachting Agency, Viviana, Giorgio and Roberto, and we are now here hopefully for the winter.

Piazza Duomo Cattedrale metropolitana della Natività de Maria

Lucky for us, we “entered” legally in a city worthy of far more than just the few weeks we have given it. Siracusa, on the Eastern side of Sicily, dates back over 2800 years and evidence of this storied history follows cobblestoned streets, from one end to the next. Itself a UNESCO HERITAGE SITE, We are docked on the island of Ortigia, which is just a stone’s throw to Siracusa. Possibly best known as the birthplace of Archimedes (288 BC) for readers of the blog, this time last year we studied ancient Greece and we worked Archimedes into our Math and Science curriculum. One of the “dividends” Jack has recently paid us, he remembered most of what he learned and while touring the “amusement park” Jack was ready to explain what many of the devices were. One device we had not learned about though was the Parabolic Mirror which Archimedes is said to have used on ships attacking Syracuse. Additionally, Archimedes explains why ships float, and is the brilliance behind nearly every piece of machinery aboard. It was great fun to visit his birthplace and to relive some old lessons.

Jack trying out the Heat Ray to “make” Fire using parabolic reflectors

As embarrassing as it is to admit it, 2 of my favorite things about Europe are the Café’s and the “markets”. So nearly the first thing we do when we arrive is to find out when/where the market will be as they move from town to town. Not here though! The market is so fantastic and busy it is here 6 days a week from 8-1300. So, before we even got settled, we headed into the market to take a look. Fantastic. As are the café’s. One can only pray that our winter home in Ragusa is as wonderful.

We also like to take a city tour if we feel there is enough to see. Wow, there was enough to see for 5 city tours as Siracusa, as it is called by the Italians, was once one of the most important cities of its time. We saw the Catacombs of San Giovanni, (4AD-6AD), the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, Archeological Park, the Roman Amphitheatre, and the Ear of Dionysis. We learned how papyrus was made and we have enjoyed gallons of a Sicilian delicacy, Granita. While most of Italy is famous for the Gelato, and believe me, it’s good, there is something especially wonderful about Sicilian Granita, particularly on a warm summer day. Granita could best be described as a type of Sorbet (they come in many flavors, but lemon is our favorite). People even eat the granita on bread for lunch. We prefer it right out of the glass. Delicious!! Another specialty of the area is Cannoli. The ricotta here makes the Cannoli taste like it is made of sweet cream rather than cheese. INSANE.

A large cruise ship port, we have seen ships come and go but there has only been 1 ship which had passengers aboard and only 600 rather than 2000. Our boat is docked nearby and below is a photo of our Gratitude with the cruise ship in the background. We are so sad for the businesses which are literally hemorrhaging during this crazy Covid time.

Note Gratitude at the marina

It soon became clear that while we were awaiting documentation from the States and watching carefully the storms brewing in the Med, we were watching the disintegration of our summer cruising plans. There was simply no way to make the multi-day passage to Genoa as we had planned, and then to slowly work our way south. Enter the brilliant and amazing ANGELS OF MERCY at Luise Yachting Agency. We mentioned in the earlier blog piece that they had worked magic with the Immigration issues but now that issue resolved, they came to the rescue again.

St. Peter’s Square in Rome

There is more than one way to see the world – and while we love seeing it in the comfort of our own home, sometimes taking a “vacation” from being on board is fun. I get to find a bathtub and we typically abdicate all jobs and chores while we are vacation. Enter Giorgio, Viviana and Roberto… AGAIN!

Viviana loves cats so she was the perfect candidate to baby sit our Pratt and Whitney (2 cats we travel with aboard Gratitude). Anyone who loves cats will tell you that contrary to their reputation, they are incredibly expressive and loving, and when they aren’t happy with you, they are wonderful at expressing it. No mistake about it. Typically, when we have left them, we know they have missed us by their behavior when we return. Both Pratt and Whitney acted as though we never left! They were loving, happy and sweet and clearly, they had been showered with attention in our absence.

Pratt and Whitney

The Gratitude was also cared for lovingly and n fact, during one storm an agent moved aboard and with the help of others in the vicinity, pulled Gratitude (180,000 pounds) off the dock to keep her safer until the storm passed. Talk about dedicated!

So we just returned from a 2 ½ week “road” trip around Northern and Central Italy. There is far too much to write about in this post so Ill close by saying that I’ll write about all of it in the coming weeks. But a taste of what is to come:

Rome, Portofino, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Castagneto Carducci, Bolgheri, and includes stories about History, FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD, Olives, Hiking, Churches and more Monuments than Washington DC.

Thanks for reading!!

Cruising Italy – Your Sandbox – Your Rules…

Last month, Ocean Navigator published a piece that I wrote about the complicated European regulations which govern our time and decisions in Europe, so it isn’t as though this was news to us. In a very short nutshell, there is European VAT (or the avoidance thereof) on the boat – Gratitude in this case, and Schengen Immigration regulations which govern Alec, Jack and me.

First a few housekeeping notes on the way we operate aboard Gratitude. There are a few things that are mostly in my domain (Laurie) such as most of the galley responsibilities, and those things which are mostly Alec’s domain – the engine room. The vast majority of what we do though, is an overlapped system of checks and backing each other up. Thus, any oversight is a learning opportunity for all of us and we take it as such. Organizing dockage, marinas, paperwork, homeschooling, etc – is often done by either and sometimes by both of us. Running the boat is a shared mutual responsibility (and even Jack is taking part on a limited basis). But while I know what Alec is checking, actually doing the engine room checks underway is Alec’s domain. I am prone to seasickness and a hot engine room in a moving boat just makes me miserable. However, I have a much better working knowledge of the food in the fridge and the meals that I’ve preparing for the passage, so it makes the most sense that I do that.

So back to our immigration issues…

We had planned to leave Portugal (Schengen country) in March and travel to the UK (non-Schengen) for the 90 required days to be out of the area before proceeding to the Baltic. That was the plan. Then Covid hit. We were ordered to remain in Portugal until the borders opened. We asked for an extension to our Schengen time and were told that making an appointment was sufficient for the requirement. When the appointment time came, we were directed to extend the appointment as the office was closed due to Covid. We did that. The new date was after our planned departure date when the border re-opened on June 15 so we notified SEF, and obtained the departure stamps in the passport and that was that. Thinking that some time in Gibraltar, out of the Schengen area, would be a good way to start our tour of the med and then begging for extension upon arrival in Italy – we thought we had a plan that made sense.

We arrived in Gibraltar and decided to stay there for 3 weeks. We reasoned that this would be sufficient time to re-enter Schengen in Spain, clear back in for a few weeks en-route to Italy where we planned to ask for an extension.

We arrived in Italy.

The first failure of the Gratitude crew was to not re-check the requirements in Italy for vessels arriving from Spain. We had checked a month or two earlier but in these crazy Covid times, rules are changing day to day. So, 5 days prior to our departure from Spain, the rules were updated that now persons arriving from Spain would need a negative Covid test. After a few days of waiting under quarantine for someone to come test us to no avail, we decided to do what we should have done at the outset – Call in professionals who do this for a living.

“These angels of Mercy exist?” were the words of my friend when I told her we were getting an agent to help with our situation. Why yes, I guess they do. However, all agents are NOT CREATED EQUAL so if you are following our advice and getting help with regulatory issues in a foreign country – make sure you are getting a good one.

Our first agent somewhat competently arranged the Covid test. She then took 10 additional days trying to get us cleared into Italy and obtaining an extension to Schengen. We were honestly surprised that it was proving to be so problematic given what we had heard from other cruising friends and what we had read on the Schengen website. Given that our overstay was not entirely our own fault, we thought this would be simple to overcome for a professional agent with relationships with the authorities. We were wrong. When we began pressing for an expected completion (remember we still wanted to cruise and see Italy), she replied tersely that we were being denied an extension or access and were expected to remain aboard Gratitude until we were able to make plans to leave the country. She didn’t offer an explanation.

My research had indicated that each local or regional border police agency has some discretion over these matters. On the off chance that a full winter reservation commitment might make a difference, I decided to contact a different agent in Sicily, where we planned to winter, and plead our case. Now here is where finding a really good agent made the difference.

It was late Friday night. Not a particularly good time to try to get a crazy situation like this resolved, but we decided to give this 1 last shot. I called Roberto Giuliana with Luise Yachting Agency in Sicily and left a message. Within moments he called me back and listened carefully to what I had to share with him. He asked several questions and advised me to send in all documentation and he would meet with the authorities on Monday am. Over the weekend Alec, Jack and I began making preparations to leave Tuesday for Montenegro if things didn’t work out on Monday. We had been waiting in Sardinia for 3 weeks. Lovely though it was, there is so much more we had hoped to be doing in Italy by this time. Further, given that the cruising season was rapidly coming to an end, we needed to get moving either within Italy or to outside of the Schengen area (Montenegro).

Roberto Giuliana with Luise Yachting

On Monday, we proceeded as though we would be leaving on a 4 -day passage to Montenegro. We provisioned and I cooked meals. Alec readied the engine room for an early departure the next morning. Sardinia is a wonderful port for getting things done – a great place for crew to fly in and out, have boat maintenance conducted, or layup the boat for the winter if we flew home. It was an ideal time to get the stores filled up with items best suited to having a car, which we had rented for the week. And we were able to get a piece of upholstery repaired and the carpets all steam cleaned. Not a bad use of the time we were here.

Roberto called Monday afternoon and told us the news. Essentially, Italy was willing to overlook some of the Schengen issues but not all. Where we had gone sideways? We should have insisted on a passport stamp in Gibraltar and again in Cartagena, SP. At each stop we were given a form and assurance that it was sufficient because due to Covid nobody would come to the boat. We had a cleared Immigration customs form, but it was produced by the marina, not the governmental agency. We should have known better. If you are reading this and following in our wake, make sure you get a stamp in every country you enter no matter what the marina advises. You see, they are mostly accustomed to dealing with other EU boats and they aren’t all that versed in the problems which will come raining down on you later. GET THE STAMP! But better still – get an agent.

So, lucky for us, we actually had a talented agent who was able to intervene on our behalf and fully understood and could explain to us what was needed to remedy the situation. We had planned to just leave and do the 4 day passage to Montenegro where we would get time outside of the Schengen area but our agent advised this was not only not necessary, but if we did this, that country had just gone “red” meaning that their Covid cases had risen to the point that other countries were blocking arrivals from there. What that would mean to us is that not only would we be putting ourselves at greater risk for catching the virus, but we would not be able to travel back as we were originally hoping we could.

The authorities would, however, accept a stamp from outside the Schengen area (Tunisia) and offer us another 90 days upon our re-entry. This blog post is already exceeding the usual length and attention span of most of my generous readers so Ill cut to the chase here. We went to Tunisia where we needed to go anyway within the next 3 months in order to clear our EU clock for Gratitude or have to pay 20% duty on her (Ill pause while you do that math:-) We had a 36 hour passage from Sardinia to Tunisia, Spent 1 hour on the dock getting all of the required paperwork handled, and we are now underway for 35 hours from Tunisia to Syracuse, Italy. Our agent will, hopefully, be there to help us with the Italian authorities as he had arranged for an agent to be at the dock in Tunisia who handled all of the formalities there. We are not completely certain of what would be required of us arriving from Tunisia. We have been instructed to expect another Covid test and/or a 2-week quarantine in Syracuse and we are prepared for either or both. It’s a tradeoff to spend 2 weeks quarantined aboard Gratitude (where we can get ahead on our schoolwork and boat chores) but at the end of it we can explore, for the bit of summer remaining, all of the places we have been so excited to see. This whole experience had us heartbroken that we would be unable to share with Jack the History, Culture, Architecture, Art, Opera, AND FOOD that Italy has to offer. This allows us to still cruise to what extent we are able, and hopefully stay for the winter and see the sites we have missed along the way.

Lessons learned.

Back in my early days of flying I had a colleague from Cuba who told me of a Latin saying which translated means “shoemaker to the shoes”. I have used this time and again with Alec in the 20 or so years we have been together, usually as he attempts to do something I deem foolhardy, like cleaning out the gutters after a rainstorm. I plead “please let someone who does this for a living have a job!” It would take one injury and he would have lost much more work from his “real” job than he would have paid the person who does this professionally. I have said this over and over and yet still, I learn that sometimes you should just leave making shoes to the shoemaker – or in this case, HIRE THE AGENT.

So, should you find yourself needing help in Italy, the agent you should talk to is: Roberto Giuliana or the folks at Luise Yachting, Sicily. I’m told that this agency has been saving visitors by yacht since the mid 19th century.

Post Script

We arrived safely in Siracusa, Italy on the island of Sicily this morning to agents and dock hands ready to assist with lines and paperwork. The authorities were notified and ready to clear us in and out – we were instructed to take down the quarantine flag and consider ourselves “VERY WELCOME TO ITALY”. It has been nearly a month of waiting and praying and crossing our fingers but thankfully, hiring the right person for the job has gotten it all handled.

Just two other items of note for the mechanical minded of our readers. We have recently developed a small issue with our AC Pump following longer passages in a very hot engine room, whereby it shuts down until the ambient temperatures cool a bit. Alec has troubleshooted this problem and indications now are likely that this pump is at the end of it’s life.

While approaching Tunis while Laurie was at the helm a small sounding “bang” was noted followed by a “thunk thunk thunk” noise. I immediately pulled the throttle to idle and noted the temperature of the engine which appeared normal. Alec quickly arrived and together we decided that it was likely we picked up a trap. Grateful to be in 80-degree water, Alec put on his mask and equipped with a knife dove to investigate. With Jack our liaison and me at the wheel, Alec discovered a very interesting fishing contraption picture below. So sorry to the poor fishman who lost his trap. We make every effort to avoid such pitfalls for all of the obvious reasons, but the poor visibility combined with zero reflective properties for our radar to see, we were hooked. Caught up by the prop but wrapped around the starboard stabilizer, Alec cut it off and we brought it to shore.

This was wrapped around the stabilizer following impact with our prop Alec dove down and cut it free while on passage to Tunisia

Sardinia – Part Due

Sardinia – What to see

We are now settled into the Moys Marina in Olbia, Italy (Sardinia). To bring you up to date on the Covid and regulatory issues, upon our arrival in La Maddalena in the NE corner of Sardinia, we were notified of a new regulation for persons arriving from Spain. We needed to get a Negative Covid test and we were required to quarantine aboard until that was achieved. Arranging the test became a challenge so we employed the services of a marine agent to help us navigate the new unfamiliar waters. After a few days, arrangements were made to have us tested while at anchor in a harbor about 20 miles South of our present location. So, we needed to obtain permission from the harbor in La Maddalena to leave to get the test and we were then required to return immediately following the test. We were able to accomplish all of this in the course of 1 day and returned to the Marina in La Maddalena where we awaited the results.

After a few days we were informed by email that 1 of us was positive for the virus but upon further reading, we discovered that the positive result was for a person NOT US, on another boat. Getting everyone notified that this was an error was the highest priority and lucky for us, our negative results came in by the end of the day. To say that we all felt a new lease on life and an indescribable freedom finally stepping on firm ground thrilled all of us. While we would have loved to stay another few days in La Maddalena we really needed to get moving. We are so very grateful to the lovely staff of the Cala Mangiavolpe marina for their kind and gracious hospitality. If you are on your way to this stunning archipelago, give these guys a call.

The Cala Managiavolpe Mariners were fantastico!!!!

So moving right along, we left the next day and went to Olbia where we had considered making a long term winter reservation. This is a good time to tell you a bit about Sardina. The second largest island in the Mediterranean and is one of the 20 regions of Italy. Of those 20 regions, 5 regions enjoy some autonomy by a special statute and this is one of them. The capital city of Sardinia is Cagliari which is in the South and while we rented a car and hoped to drive down to see it, I fear at this point that is an unlikely trip for reasons we will discuss further along. Several points to note here about Sardinia- which made Sardinia a priority to see, were that it is one of the few “Blue Zones” on the planet with the highest number of Centenarians in the world. We saw a Netflix program about it with Zac Efron and arriving here, the island felt nearly familiar after that introduction several weeks ago. The farming and agriculture – vineyards and mountains must be the reason for this longevity. There is a wholesomeness to life here I believe due to the vast diversity of the ecosystems and largely uninhabited territory. While driving from one village to the next one can discover road -side fruit and veggie stands which sold only locally grown produce. The taste! Oh the taste!! Honestly the best melon and best peaches we have ever eaten!

Another reason we were excited to visit is because of the inhabitants from the Paleolithic age but of particular interest was the Nuragic civilization which lived here from the 18th century BC! Yes nearly 4000 years ago these people lived on this island and built these truly remarkable structures which still stand today! The island is literally “littered” with some 10,000 structures standing as tribute to this civilization which lived here. The Phoenicians travelled past on their way from what is now Lebanon to what is now Britain to trade and some remained and settled in the coastal reasons where alliances were formed with the Nuragic. Eventually parts of the island were conquered by Carthage (what is now Egypt) in late 6th Century BC and then of course, Rome in 238 BC. – And that is just a snapshot of this rich history. There is so much more leading up until the medieval times.

We drove to Tharros, a town 2 hours to the SW of Olbia – essentially is is ½ way down the West Coast. Recent excavations are continuing to reveal ancient civilizations and what was particularly surprising to us was that one could identify in the dig which artifacts were from which group of occupants. It was truly remarkable and personally – I just felt like my entire life was just the tiniest of snapshots in the bigger picture.

Another “field trip” was to the really stunning town of Bosa. Also, a 2 hour drive away and on the West coast this town was developed in the Medieval times and the amazing stone walkways and hairpin turns throughout the town and up the mountain make it mostly suitable to walking (in sturdy shoes) rather than driving. This town is the only village on the only navigable river and is surrounded by the most amazing green valley of produce. Walking through the cobblestoned streets make a trip to the Malaspina Castle. Built in 1112 on the top of a hill by a family who settled here in the middle of the 11th century. The views from here are the most impressive.

Today is my birthday and we are taking a day to rest. Jack and I made an ice cream cake to replicate the one that I love at home – the Dairy Queen Ice Cream cake. There are no Recees cups to be had here so we substituted in the Snickers bars. Alec and Jack bought me the most beautiful flowers and tomorrow I have an appointment for a spa day! Which brings me to why we may not make it to Cagliari…

Is this insane or what!?

We are most anxious to continue our exploration of Italy – at this point we have approximately 9 weeks left of our summer cruise so we decided that we will have to re-visit France another time. Due to the difficulty getting into Italy, we can’t risk that re-entry will be a problem from France in the future so we will have to skip it. If all goes well, we will leave Sardinia on Friday and head to Genoa where I hope to get in to see the lakes of Italy via train. From that point we will begin our trip South so we are open to any and all suggestions of “must see” Italian stops.

Winter plans

We are planning to “winter” in the Ragusa Marina in Sicily. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here in Sardinia and this marina is an excellent facility. We would highly recommend i for anyone traveling here, but for wintering – I’m not sure I would love it. We rented a car while here because the island is so rural and this marina is remote but in the entire 15-16 months we have been traveling, we have only rented a car 3 times and 2 of those times were due to guests being accommodated. We truly prefer to travel by bus or train and bike, and we like to stay in places where that is possible. The grocery store is lovely but a bit too far for walking with bags of groceries. There is a shuttle, but I like more autonomy and independence than relying on that. And finally, I like a closer-knit community. Following a full and active summer with a lot of movement, settling down and enjoying meeting others who have just finished their summer cruises is a wonderful way to get a sense of community and fellowship. The Ragusa Marina in Sicily sounds like just the right mix for us so that is where we are headed.

Sardinia – Not all fun and games

“You got what you wanted”. Jack’s ever present ability to sum up a situation in a matter of a few words if not well timed, has always been a skill. The timing, however, will have to take some finesse in the coming years though. Let me go back a couple of days.

Our Anchorage

We made a 35 -hour passage from Menorca to Sardinia and having reservations already planned for our arrival we rested easy knowing that we had a nice berth in which to sleep after a complete lack of sleep for two days. Rarely are things what they seem and even more so after a longish passage between 2 countries during a Covid Pandemic. Once in cell phone coverage we checked our email and discovered that the dock reservations were unavailable until Friday. No problem, we will just hang out at anchor until we are permitted in. In the meantime, we searched Navily, the app we use to find suitable anchorages (and marinas for that matter) in Europe. Upon studying the options in this lovely archipelago with very tricky regulations governing the mooring and anchoring, we thought we found a suitable spot. After several attempts to set the anchor and with 30-35 knots of wind blowing across the bow, we decided we were never going to sleep in this “less than ideal” set of circumstances, so we continued to look for a better place. Mercifully, one such option presented itself and after verifying that it was permissible based on our cruising guides of the area, we dropped the hook and began the work of purchasing a permit. The website was in Italian but lucky for us, we have 2 phones, so I used Google translate on my phone to purchase the permit on Alec’s phone. Now, we have US phones and let me just say T-Mobile is the very best company in America. We are so very happy with them and the service that they provide for us while we are here – but the unlimited plan we have for data is at 2 G speeds and takes some patience while offshore and trying to get something important done. Mostly we just leave it until we find WIFI, but this was absolutely necessary, so we persisted. And persisted. Success – though not without its challenge – we were able to get the permit and some dinner and a quick swim to verify the anchor situation, and made it to sleep in a lovely anchorage with really good holding. Tomorrow is a new day!

Loaded into the “the family car” to go to town

So we got dressed up for town and customs, something we always try to do to show our respect for the local authorities, and lowered the dinghy into the water for the trip to “town”.

Town in this case is La Maddalena, a really adorable village which looks like something out of central casting for Italy so it was a terrific first experience. .. So far… The archipelago off the North Eastern corner of Sardinia is comprised of 7 larger islands and several smaller islets. We are looking forward to doing some exploring after our time in the town and hope to anchor out or tie to a mooring and island hop for at least a week. The regulations governing these islands is strict. Well done Sardinia for the conservation work they have been doing since the 1990’s, after noticing decay of this really beautiful natural resource. In order to dive or snorkel or even walk on several of the islands, one must be in the company of a certified naturist. I wish the Bahamas would institute some of these protections. On our most recent trip to the Bahamas, in addition to watching boat loads of tourists with no training or education being dumped into one of the most pristine and lovely snorkeling sites – to then clip “go pro’s “ to coral, drag anchor through precious sea beds and stand on top of live rock, it almost became too much to watch. But I digress…

First stop – we tried to find the Customs and Immigration office. Using Google translate and our map programs we looked and looked but had no luck. We found a government office and we were “shooed” out before I could even try out my horrible attempts to communicate in Italian. We asked around using hand signals and my phone – no luck. This is when Jack offered, well Mom, you got what you wanted! You see, I was a little disappointed that our “winter home” in Lagos, Portugal involved so much English and so little opportunity to try our hand at foreign language. It was what I wanted, though not at this exact moment, thus the timing was a bit lacking given my current level of frustration.

Deciding to put our immigration issues on the back burner for the moment, we decided to go to the marina next and enquire about dockage for the following day. Good news – the slip was available tomorrow. We next asked about immigration and the marina dock attendant advised us – no worry! no problem! – we will take care of all of it tomorrow. Hmmmmm May we walk around the town? Even eat lunch before visiting Immigration? “Sure” he said – No problem he said – of course he said. Hahahahah. So the next day, and after eating a delightful lunch albeit a bit disappointing for Jack expecting pepperoni’s on his pizza and instead getting peppers, (more language challenges).

We tried to tackle the 3rd item on our list which was a trip to the Marine Archipelago center to purchase another night at anchor without having to do this via Google Translate and spotty cellular service. After a 45 minute walk with very funny directions we finally found the center – during the mid- day closing – in fact, open only in the morning, they close at 12:30 every day for the day. Truly we had enjoyed enough fun for one day, so we opted to head back to the anchorage rather than try to accomplish item number 4 which was groceries. We were seriously lacking in the grocery department.

So, another good night sleep (Thank God) and we were at it again the next day – Thursday.
To the marina we went and managed another tricky med-moor but at least I never went swimming – we must be getting better.

We washed Gratitude, went to dinner, enjoyed Italian cookies and gelato and again, decided to postpone the grocery run, in fact, why not have breakfast off the boat tomorrow and find groceries on the way home. Arriving back “home” at the marina we asked the dockmaster if he was ready to take care of the immigration formalities to which he replied – “Oh I don’t need anything – you are good as far as I’m concerned”. Uh oh…. We really did know that we needed to see someone from immigration. A few inquiries later, we learned that we were not permitted to walk to the office – due to Covid nobody was allowed into the facility. Our helpful Simone was going to make more inquiries. Which is the information we awoke to on Friday.

Effective 12 August (we left Menorca, Spain on 18th of August) Italy changed their requirements for persons arriving from Spain. A Covid test is mandatory and a quarantine until that is accomplished and the results obtained is necessary before disembarking. Oops. – I guess we have bigger issues than a stamp in the passport. I was going to start this sentence with “in my defense” but I just realized that I have no defense. Honestly, in these really crazy times, one must consult the rules daily not monthly for changes to the policies in inter-country travel. So – my bad, here we sit awaiting the person who will swab our nostrils who was purported to arrive near mid-day – it is now 1700. Not expecting this to happen today. Que Sera Sera… or whatever the Italian equivalent of that is….

Unfortunately, still no groceries… we have enough food in the freezer to survive but the fruits and veggies which we love so much are no more after the final apple eaten for breakfast. The marina staff has very generously offered to make a grocery trip for us but thinking that this was going to be a 48 hour issue I declined – Im now rethinking that offer.

Quarantine is great for board games and cards!

Stay tuned –

A quick update here – today is Monday – still no swab and no idea if/when someone will be coming. We did get groceries brought in – interesting side note here – when one writes red pepper on a grocery list, expect 20 red peppers and when one writes lettuce – expect 1 very tiny head of lettuce – We got 20 bananas – all ripe and ready to eat and when I asked for 2 mozzarellas, I got 8. I have never understood how anyone can send out for groceries. This is my very first experience with it and while I’m truly grateful and not complaining at all – I just don’t “get” how one can be happy with someone else’s grocery selection. So we made banana bread today and we will make banana bread tomorrow and probably have banana smoothies all week.

Also, we have contacted Olbia Marina – a marina on the mainland of Sardinia in the hopes that we will have more luck with this there. Good news – they have dockage – bad news – we are still no closer to making sure we can get swabbed there but I have reached out to a “handler” who may be able to help – stay tuned…