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!!

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.

Cartagena, Spain

July, 2020

Cartagena, Spain

I’d like to start this blog by just saying we as a family have no words to express our gratitude that we are underway again. We feel in our groove again, in stride and engaged once more in the life we are living. There are a number of you reading who love the numbers so this week I’m going to start with that.

Over the past 14 months we have fueled up intermittently taking fuel at various stops from the time we left Florida until we last fueled up in Jersey, Channel Islands last October. When we fueled up in Gibraltar last week, we chose to “fill her up” as we aren’t expecting to see these prices again throughout the Med. Fuel in Gib was .40 pence/Liter. For the Americans – it’s roughly 4 liters per gallon and we took on 5200 Liters. Based on our typical usage, we aren’t anticipating needing fuel for at least another year. A typical overnight trip which we just enjoyed from Gibraltar to Cartagena, SP took 30 hours to travel 244 miles. We averaged 8.1 knots and used 198 gallons of fuel for 6.6 gallons per hour or 1.23 Nautical Mile Per Gallon. For this cost, we are essentially moving around our home and doing so very comfortably. There is nothing in the world like spending the day sightseeing, hiking or just living to arrive home to one’s own pillow, bed, and all of the full bottles of toiletries one uses to be comfortable. Preparing all of Jacks favorite meals and treats in our own galley is another of our great joys. Jack and I are the very grateful beneficiaries of the vast knowledge and dedication Alec brings to this venture. Our Gratitude has been steadily and faithfully performing beautifully since we first adopted her and that is in no small part due to the care and constant vigilance that Alec brings to his avocation. A couple of hours from the dock in Gibraltar we had a failure of the Satellite Compass – we got a “work around” allowing us to navigate using our back up flux gate compass – this worked perfectly allowing us to get to the dock but due to the Covid situation – we couldn’t really get the electronics guy to fix the problem. Alec worked around it by running Cat 5 wire from the antenna at the top of the mast through the wheelhouse port and to the processor. It’s not the most elegant solution but it is working perfectly and allowing for the electronics guy to complete the work properly at a later date when travel isn’t so onerous. In any event, the electronics guy lives in Ireland so that’s a bit of a help.

Now back to the fun stuff… Cartagena, SP

What a cool city! Inhabitants of Cartagena date back 3700 years. For our purposes though, we looked at the history dating back to when it was inhabited by the Carthaginians who built a wall in approx. 3rd century BC. Remarkably, that wall is still standing despite the failure to prevent the Romans from capturing the city and turning it into a Roman Colony around the 2nd century BC. The Arabs left their mark arriving in the 8th century AD and the Christians came later in the 13th century.

The Punic Wall (3rd Century BC)

The Roman Theatre only recently discovered

Restoration work being done daily on the ancient discoveries

The recent and modern Theatre with the ancient roman theatre in the background (right)

The stunning statue paying tribute to all of the victims of terrorism.

While uncovering the Punic wall only recently discovered, the sarcophagus was also found which was once part of the church which stood here. Before the 18th century, brothers of orders would leave offerings to pay for a mass and a place in the tomb in the church. The practice was stopped in the early 19th century.

Some of the benefits of this kind of living and teaching were apparent right away – and some others have taken time to emerge. One benefit which I only recently discovered is the wonderful gift of time to get curious. Certainly, the greatest inspiration for learning is curiosity but in our past lives, we seemed never to have enough time for our curiosity to flourish. We have noticed lately that we have a thought – or a curiosity, and then we research the answer later. We have all been enjoying this latest benefit and not more so than this past week. We were doing one of the silly bus tours where you hop on and hop off, listening to the audio recording about some given monument or building as it whizzes past at 30 miles per hour. I hate admitting this, but we love these – not for the vast knowledge that we acquire in the moment but rather the overview which we can then home in on and decide which of the local special attractions we would like to spend our time on later. Such was the case as we zoomed past a monument paying tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in the Spanish American war. Immediately, I got curious. Hmmmm, I seem to remember something about that but…. When was that?……what was it about? The next day we did some research. On the off chance that you are as curious as I was – here are a few details. It was fought in 1898 and it started over a squirmish in Havana Harbors after an American Ship had some fire aboard. Now, at the time, Cuba belonged to Spain. The resulting war or more accurately our win, brought about an end to Spain being a world power and the beginning of America with overseas territories in Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba gaining their independence. For this we paid a paltry 20 Million dollars. Jack was curious about the Spanish Civil war. So interesting in that it occurred between 1936-1939. Jack immediately recognized the significance of those dates – just before the start of WW2 and it was largely due to the rise of Fascism (sound familiar) and the disparity arising between the poor and the wealthy. Essentially the poor and disenfranchised rose up. Sound familiar? seems to me that has happened in several other countries just before the fall of an empire. It happened in Russia with the Czars. Now I swear I’m not making this up and I’m sure if you are a parent you have said these words to your own child when they came to you as Jack did this week to inquire, “why do we have to spend so much time on ancient history”? There can only be 1 answer to this question, right? Writer and philosopher George Santayana is credited with this well-known – quote “Those who don’t know History are condemned to repeat it” So that begs the question – do we all need a history lesson?

The hiking here is fantastic with 5 large hills of approximately 800 feet (I know because we climbed one of them) surrounding the city. It is a bit balmy – some would say Hot but we are Floridians, so it hasn’t hit the “hot” moniker for us yet. As long as we can sit with the ports open during the day – which we have done every day – it’s not hot. We do sleep with AC at night but during the day the breezes – though warm- are comfortable.

And finally – the food – glorious food!!! Yes, we love Spanish tapas – who doesn’t right? But we still have some work to do to get our body schedule on the local schedule – the closest we have come is eating dinner just before the restaurants close after lunch. We are really going to be in for it when we get to the Balearics. The islands – (particularly Ibiza) are well known for their party ‘til you drop night clubs of which we, in a perfect world – would not be partaking. But this is not a perfect world – or is it? The nightclubs are closed due to Covid and we have every reason to suspect that the attendant crowds, of which we have been warned, will be non-existent. We shall see. You can see in the Cartagena photos that there were very few other tourists in any of the sites we visited yet most of my research indicated ways to avoid the crowds – as though that was something one might want to do. Certainly, the cruise ships which normally occupy a large part of the port were non-existent during our visit as were the several thousand occupants which pour through the port doors when a ship is in town. According to the BBC, roughly 35% of the Balearic Island economic output is in tourism and there has been a grand effort to save some of this year’s revenue lost due to Covid but also according to the same BBC News article, there has long been an agenda by the locals and the Balearic islands’ tourism board to get away from the party –“ booze tourism” crowd inundating the islands every year in search of a more upmarket crowd. I can hardly wait to see what awaits us at the anchorage.

Our plan is to spend several days at anchor and minimize our time at the docks. The reasons for this are many – but primarily, in addition to enjoying our times at anchor – especially in warmer weather where we can just jump in the water and have a swim, the dockage in the Med is very expensive. Since we left Florida, we haven’t spent nearly the budget for dockage that we spend in the US. And this is true for most of Northern Europe – but not so for the Med where dockage expenses range from the pricey to the insane – think basic Bahamas or Nantucket. The cruising guides and all empirical knowledge from friends warn that dockage and anchorage space is incredibly limited in July and August, but we are hoping that this Covid thing is going to cause the exception. We will let ya know…

So we are currently off the Spanish Coast heading for the Balearic Islands due in tomorrow morning.

So very nice getting back into the swing of things…