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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
“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.
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!
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.
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…
Due to the length of the post I have opted to break the Balearic Island posts into 3 different pieces – Please look back or forward to other entries on different Islands.
Recommended by 3 different people in 3 different countries, the next stop was Port of Soller, 3 km inland to the town of Soller and nestled into the side of the Tramontana mountain range. Soller is connected to the port by a little mahogany tram. Nearby villages of Fornalutx and Biniaraix and Binibassi can be easily reached by bus or taxi, In fact, for 2 Euro and 30 minutes we spent the day enjoying the UNESCO Heritage village of Fornalutx. This town most certainly made the top 3 destinations of the year in terms of charm and is a not to be missed destination should you find yourself cruising this area. Some of the best hikes we have done happened here and without much direction or planning, we ambled into the back country of the mountain finding Goats, Donkeys and a throwback to the industry before tourism, fields of olive and citrus trees. Again, due to Covid our time here can only be described as enchanting. We changed our dock reservations 4 times before and 2 times after our arrival and we were accommodated easily with each change. Certainly, a sign of the times as this is the only harbor on the NW coast offering refuge from the “mistral” which arrived this week. The town itself is loaded with a full range of restaurants and cafes to suit any budget or taste, and many were opened early enough for us to dine at our usual 1800 – BONUS!
Mistrals – interesting wind events common in the Med result in the entire lee coast becoming potentially dangerous, so we were happy to be tied safely to the dock (though the surge made us feel like we were on a rolly-ride at Disney) and made boarding via the passarelle (first time we have ever used it) a challenge. A small side note, if you read the Gibraltar post on Med mooring, you may have asked yourself how does one manage to get on or off the boat without any adjacent dock on which to jump? The answer is, of course, to jump from the swim platform off the stern or a ladder from the bow – depending on which way we back into the sea wall. This was how we did it thus far but in Soller, the sea wall had an underwater ledge that made getting close impossible and really with all of the surge, we had no choice but to employ the use of the passarelle. We have thus far been reluctant to use it– honestly it just looked too complicated and unwieldy and we just preferred to jump to the dock. That strategy would absolutely not work here thus the passarelle got dusted off for the first time in 2 years. Attached to the aft bulkhead of Gratitude via some backing plates and screws, one side of the roughtly 7 foot long walkway Is secured in this manner while the other end hangs just over the ledge on the dock side held up by bungie cords connected to the davit. It is important that the dock end not be left to ride on the pavement as the boat is in constant motion and would certainly break at least the passarelle if not damage the boat. Braun and Tina gave us a little tutoring on it and Alec felt he had a pretty good handle on it – so up it went. With Gratitude bucking and rolling even tied to the dock, boarding and disembarking became an act of care and concentration
What makes cruising uncomfortable, made for perfect hiking weather and with an occasional mist and cooler overcast temperatures we enjoyed exploring the olive groves, windmills and wild donkeys and goats which graze freely. Recommended by new friends, we found 2 hikes and several anchorages to explore – which we enjoyed exploring when the weather calmed, and we could take out the dinghy.
So wonderful to have a pool in the back yard again! This is the first marina in over a year with a pool and we took full advantage.
Reluctant but anxious to see what new delight await us further North, we departed Soller and next made a 4 hour passage to Calle de Formentor. on the Northern tip of Mallorca, planning to be here just a few nights before jumping over to Menorca, we can already see that plan has changed – again…
Have you ever returned from a vacation and felt like you needed a vacation? Sometimes as the on board “cruise director” I can sense that my crew is feeling that way, so I like to plan in some “lay days” at anchor where we aren’t spending a fortune to NOT take advantage of the town we are in. That was my plan for Calle de Formentor because the next island, Menorca, has evidence of the oldest civilizations in the Med and according to the Islas Baleares cruising guide, “Menorca has the greatest concentration of prehistoric remains IN THE ENTIRE MEDITERRANEAN”. So we may need to arrive refreshing and ready to learn to do the exploring that this island promises even though it is one of the smaller islands, it promises to keep us busy.
Our few days of rest in Formentor became a week here. We enjoyed the rest, of course, as well as lots of snorkeling, swimming, a small bit of hiking and a trip to Pollenca. Recommended by a friend from home and a short 15 minute dinghy ride to the Port of Pollenca, we were so happy to have been warned of this spot mere miles from where we were. The port is a typical large port city – nice and with a market (you know how I love the markets!) the real gem was a 15 minute and 1.50 Euro bus ride to the old town of Pollenca. Pollenca just as with Soller, the main towns were built 7 and 3 km respectively, inland from their ports as protection from pirates. Conquered by the Romans in 123 BC, Pollenca was founded between 70 and 60 BC. The 365 steps to Calvary were so much fun to climb and the town was a true gem with adorable shops and restaurants in this ancient city. Thanks Bob and Dori for the recommendations!
School is beginning across the US this week and we will be continuing our plan of limited school until we are tucked into our “winter” home. Jack has been writing in his journal weekly and reading both assigned books and non- assigned fun books. We had hoped to do 3 days a week of Kahn Academy – but due to limited internet some weeks have been better than others. Still, Jack has completed nearly 50% of math for 4th grade (the grade he is “going into”) so we feel as though we are mostly current. Jack continues to learn History wherever we are, and living in and on the water is a daily Natural Science class.
As I write this we are underway to Mahon, Menorca. We hope you too are able to take advantage of the changes that this crazy Covid times are offering.
Several months ago, before Covid changed the world forever, Alec, Jack and I traveled to Gibraltar to do research for winter 2021, believing then that we would make our way into the Med for the following summer 2021. Even though that was only 6 months ago, everyone reading this can relate to how different our world looks, both individually and collectively now.
Still, having done the research months earlier, it made coming here easier in several ways in that we knew what to expect and we had made contacts for dockage as well. I had written a piece about Gib, as it is affectionately called by the locals, which I later sold to Ocean Navigator magazine, and for that reason, I never made a blog post about it then. Sometimes I write to get something that we experience on paper, wherever it ends up. Having done that, I find it difficult to write a different piece for a different audience on the same subject, but I am happy to have another opportunity to share our combined experiences of both trips here now.
The great thing about coming to this lovely place twice and having one of those times before this Covid crisis was, we had the ability to sightsee in a way last time which was impossible this time due to the closure of many of the tourist attractions for the duration of our time here. We did manage to walk up the Rock of Gibraltar and visit the monkeys who seemed overly friendly in the wake of the drought of visitors of late. We had heard that they were “cheeky” little thieves and would welcome any chance to make off with hats, glasses or even back packs. On our first visit we saw none of this bold familiarity yet on our recent trip, with us the only visitors we saw in a full day of climbing up and down, cheeky was the perfect word to describe them. They grabbed at Jacks hat, desperate to abscond with it to who knows where. They grabbed my arms and tried to engage with me in a gentle sort of playful way. Given that I have had exactly 2 experiences with wild monkeys in my life, this was completely unnerving to me. Especially the males who appeared to be guarding the nursing females on our ascent up the rock. At nearly the top and after getting some “guff” from one such large ape like monkey, I felt it was time to turn tale and head back down – I had gotten close enough to the top to call it a victory.
On the previous trip and given that we only had 3 days not 3 weeks to explore, we took a taxi to the top and made the requisite stops at both the St. Michaels Caves and the Pillar of Hercules. So, a short history lesson here, The Rock of Gibraltar, only a 3 miles spit of land, (growing daily due to the high value of land and the attendant desire for reclamation) and completely surrounded by Spain on all land sides, has been home to inhabitants dating back to the Neanderthals. Travelers have been leaving their mark here since the Phoenicians and later, the Carthaginian’s who, traveling past believed that they were approaching the end of the earth, left gifts to the Gods in the caves in the years between roughly 800 BC and 200 BC. In 711 the Moors landed at the foot of the rock and so began the Muslim conquest of Iberia. Evidence of their occupation remains in the Moorish Baths located within the Gibraltar Museum. The British and Dutch forces captured the Rock in 1704 and under the Treaty of Ultrecht in 1717 ceded Gib to the British Crown in perpetuity. This would not be the last heard of the Spanish however and several more attempts were made on the rock the final and greatest being The Great Siege in 1779-1783. For Americans a point of significance is that date. The British had to endure a brutal siege by Spain for Gibraltar at the same time the Americans were fighting for their liberty. Dividing the British resources undoubtedly played a role in the success of the American and French in fighting the British for American sovereignty during those same years.
A quick glance at a map and one can easily see why this is so important a piece of land for the British. Given necessary trade with Asia and India the rights to the Straights of Gibraltar prevented Crown ships having to make the trip around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and all the way back up again. Cutting through the Med especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 gave them access to a far shorter trade route. Today that same shortened route is required to get access to precious oil from the Middle East. From a strictly military point of view, it is a critical strong hold and remains encamped today to provide supplies to allied ships proving invaluable during WW2.
On our earlier visit our guide shared with us a story of the myth of twin pillars of Hercules. Homer claimed that Hercules broke the mountain joining Europe and Africa resulting in two pillars on either side of Straights of Gibraltar. The European “pillar” is the Rock of Gibraltar and the “pillar” on the African side is Mount Hacho.
We dropped by the museum, closed due to covid, and discovered that with prior arrangement a visit may be possible. I sent an email and was delighted that they would permit us a private visit during a designated time slot. It was a perfectly wonderful museum exploration – we were the only visitors there and we were free to meander and discover completely at our own pace. They had reconstructed a couple of Neanderthals from found bones and just that alone was worth the trip. There have been carvings and evidence of their habitation in Gib for over 100,000 years.
We are clearly moving into yet a new phase of our learning aboard Gratitude. So accustomed have we been to think of history in terms of the past 300 years in the US, upon reaching the UK we began thinking more in terms of the past 2000 years. Now we are beginning to look at History in terms of BC and AD as much of the Mediterranean history dates back well over 2000 years ago.
Jack turned 10 last week and we celebrated in a big way aboard Gratitude. Having experienced a bit of a Toy drought since we left -unable to just run to Target for something on which to spend his hard-earned money, the toy store abundance combined with his impending birthday made this the perfect place to be. Also, I lost a (dental) crown, which was repaired here, and Alec had some worrisome skin issues resolved.
Finally, if you have been following along you may be wondering why we are headed into the Med now when we were originally planning to be in the Baltic this summer. When the Covid thing hit and as we were waiting for Portugal to open and let us leave, we were simultaneously waiting for another country to open their border to let us in. We have the additional constraints of the shortened cruising season up North, in fact, as early as October the weather was changing quickly as far South as the Channel Islands. We certainly don’t wish to be in the North Sea that late in the year. Also, with our immigration concerns there seems to be a more lenient approach to allowing extensions in the Southern part of Europe as opposed to the Northern countries. And finally, Italy was the first country to open their doors and allow foreign visitors. So, armed with all of these constraints, we decided to move around some plans and hope that we may still make it to the Baltic in the summer of 2022 spending this summer and next in the Med. Of course, given so many variables up in the air, even now we aren’t certain where we will end up this winter, though we hope to be in Sicily. So, this is all just a wild guess.
What we do know now is that we are on our way to Cartegena, Spain and having the most gorgeous passage. Underway for about 25 hours thus, and with another 2 to go, the weather has been stunning and the views breathtaking. The Spanish coastline has made me wish we could stop at every little town we seem to pass.
One final note – many have asked us about the guidelines and requirements here in Europe in the wake of Covid. Mask usage is fairly consistent across the board anytime a 2-meter distance cannot be maintained. We just arrived in Spain where one can be fined 1,000 Euros on the spot for failure to comply and have with them a mask. As in Portugal, usage was mandatory in restaurants and cafes anytime not seated at the table and the tables and its occupants were required to be 2 meters apart. Nobody is complaining about this – nobody is even talking about it – it’s just become part of the program and without dispute, the Covid numbers are under control here. There have been a few tiny “brushfires” which have been quickly tamped down with contract tracing and immediate resolution but with mask usage – the asymptomatic carriers aren’t spreading it accidentally. When I read the US news I’m just so amazed that this is even an issue – using a mask saves lives – this is the undisputed fact of science. It has NOTHING to do with political affiliation or belief – it’s just science and across the board there is no dispute that wearing a mask prevents the spread – Just my 2 cents worth.
We hope wherever this finds you – you are enjoying your summer plans – upended though they most certainly are – and enjoying each other.