Monday, October 8 - Wednesday, October 24, 2007
favorite home-owners in Italy, Tim & Louise, let us know a few weeks ago
that they would be coming home for a month, and it
would be a
good opportunity for us to do some sightseeing. We've been
house-sitting for almost three months now in central Italy, with side
trips to Switzerland, Perugia, Florence & Rome, so
started reading and researching possible new directions to travel.
recommended heading south, and with the cooler
like an excellent idea. So on October
packed the car and drove southwest, bypassing Rome, to the
Nettuno & Anzio, the site of a
during World War Two. Between January & May 1944, Allied forces
landed at Anzio and fought to reach Rome, which they
liberate on June
Our reason for stopping in Nettuno is to visit the American Cemetery &
Memorial, beautifully maintained on
acres, the resting place of 7,861 soldiers (representing just 35% of those
who died in combat in WWII, between Sicily & the liberation of Rome.) We were
also fortunate to meet the
Superintendent of the cemetery, Joe Bevilacqua, from New Jersey. Joe
& Robert talked for several hours about the battles fought, and some past
visitors to the
and about their own memories as soldiers.
much other reason to stay in the area, so after lunch we continued driving
to Naples, "birthplace of pizza, chaos, and Sophia Loren", according to
our guidebook! We arrived after dark, at rush hour, in the drizzling
rain, and completely lost. There is no rush hour quite like a Naples
rush hour! Wall to wall traffic, regardless of stop signs or
signals, mopeds zipping everywhere: Chaos is an understatement!
After 2 or 3 hours of driving and searching, we finally found the hostel
we were looking for, full. But they personally directed us to an "albergo"(room
for rent), down the block. They warned us about leaving valuables in
the car --- people have been known to bust car windows in Naples just to
look in glove compartments, so we had decided to make the 3 trips
necessary to carry all our bags up to the room tonight. After
climbing 4 flights of stone steps so well-worn they appeared to bow in the
middle, we met the owner, Candy, who led us to a private room, with a full
bathroom on the balcony, for 40 euros/night.
There we crashed, exhausted.
morning began with rain, and we were thrilled to have a place to relax for
a few days. We hiked downstairs to make sure the car was okay (it
was), and then took our time showering and getting ready for a few days of
sightseeing. Amazingly, we only took one photo of Naples, this one,
showing the narrow catwalk constructed on the 4th floor of our "hotel", to
bypass the owner's living room. We must have still been in shock
from the drive!
We spent Wednesday walking through the city, and down to the ports, where
we researched the prices for ferry passage to Sicily. We found one
ferry company, Tirrenia, offering a special fare for 2 people and a car
for 150 euros ($300). Since this would keep us from having to drive
700 miles each way "to the toe of the boot", we made the decision to leave
on Thursday's overnight ferry, and spend about a week exploring Sicily.
We got a
for lunch (pizza, pizza, or pizza), and then spent the afternoon wandering
through the streets of the old city before returning to our room
weather was much improved, so we packed up & got outside
early. We drove south on the autostrada
hour, past Mt.
Vesuvius, Pompeii, and Sorrento,
to the Amalfi
Renowned for its rugged terrain,
beauty, picturesque towns and diversity, the Amalfi Coast is listed by
World Heritage Site.
Since we have been house-sitting in
we haven't seen the ocean in three months. Jeanie is homesick for
the sea! Luckily,
we started on
southern end of the drive, in the opposite
the tour busses, so we had
many of the
ourselves. The cliffs offered some
excellent views of the
Mediterranean and some very
interesting architecture, and we stopped for a picnic in Positano.
Yesterday's rain storm has cooled the land and the water, and
swimming here is not a
pleasant option today. So today's outing is
to see this unique area. Sailing yachts, narrow switchbacks, &
cut into the hillsides. Reminds us of Santa
By 6pm we
are back at the dock in Naples, parked in
to board the ferry, along with
a long line of tractor-trailer rigs, bound for Palermo. We were
all boarded within 2 hours, and we made our way to the lounge area, where
we bedded down for the night on two
bags and pillows! The ferry trip took ten hours, and the next
morning at 6:30 we docked as the sun came up over Palermo!
exploring the harbor, the
first thing we did in Palermo was
find the information center. Since it hadn't opened yet, we parked
near the city
center and walked around town for an hour, had coffee and fresh
croissants, and watched the locals come and go. It was easy to
pace" of the city, especially compared to the hectic pace of Naples the
night before. We finally returned to the info
center and had a nice time talking with the lovely locals there.
They recommended many
areas of interest, but one that sounded
particularly interesting was the northwest coast of Sicily, and the towns
Scopello and Castelmare de Golfo.
The area was rather quiet, as it was the close of tourist season, and the
warm climate, empty beaches and clear waters looked and felt wonderful.
We took a swim at a roadside public beach, and spoke to a local
carpenter/craftsman who recommended a secluded beach further down the road
a few miles. We took his advice, and came to a sheltered cove with
the clearest water we had
seen yet. A few people sat on the beach sunbathing, but after an
hour they cleared out and we had a beautiful setting all to ourselves.
We'd brought along our tent, but the sky was clear, there were no bugs,
and we determined our sleeping
bags and pillows would be enough to be
comfortable all night. It was still very early in the evening, so we
went out to dinner at a nice seaside restaurant in
Castelmare de Golfo called La Cambusa,
then returned to the cove, set up
built a small fire, and watched
the stars until sleep finally
On Saturday morning we woke
before dawn, enjoying our quiet
beach. Gradually some local divers arrived, called out a hearty "Buon Giorno" to
us, and slipped into the water to go spear-fishing for octopus & squid.
While they swam around the cove, we broke camp, changed into our swim
suits, and floated in the clear and very salty sea.
in the car, we decided to try another area of Sicily, the town
of Cefalu, on the northern coast, east of Palermo. The town sits
between the sea and a huge 1200-foot-tall rock, which you can climb for a
great view. Cefalu's a bit more touristy than
de Golfo, with ancient cathedrals and ruins from Greek, Roman, and Norman
conquerors. It even has an
ancient Laundromat (Lavatoio Medievale)! It was a fascinating town
to see and explore, so we did some window shopping, and
more great seafood! The weather was bringing some rain that night, so we
at a large German-owned
campground outside of town, "Camping Costa Ponente", where we
did our laundry (in a modern sink) and repacked the car.
stop along the coast was the town of Milazzo, about a
drive away, and we headed there because we had read
about the tour boats that motor out to the offshore volcanic islands.
And there is a large and busy port there, but the tours were more
expensive than we had planned, so we looked instead for a place to stay
for a day or two. We were relieved to find a few
still open, since many of the more secluded areas had already closed for
the season. We found a campground called
Riva Smerelda, on the tip of the peninsula, Capo Milazzo, which also had
a bungalow for rent. We met Stefania, the manager of the campground,
and she gave us a deal on the bungalow we couldn't refuse! With a
private beach and clear water for snorkeling, it turned
out to be such a pleasant spot for us that we stayed there for a week!
The only other people we met there were a couple of brothers from Germany
had ridden their motorcycles all the way down the Italian mainland!
That week we
explored the Castello di Milazzo, which dates back to 4000
BC. The peninsula
of Milazzo, stretching out towards
the Aeolian Islands, has always been one of the most important harbors in Sicily. There was a stronghold here
under the Romans and then under
Arabs. The original structure of the present castle was extended by
Frederick II, who in his desire to make the town impregnable
constructed a great harbor wall to defend the roads, dominating the
isthmus. The castle was further reinforced in the 15th century by Alphonso
of Aragon, who built five massive turrets, and by
Viceroy Ferrante Gonzaga in the
1600s. It suffered substantial
18th century, and after devastation
in the Bourbon period it became a prison,
which it remained until 1960.
We took a guided
tour through the fortress, and enjoyed some fabulous views of the city &
of the daily highlights of our stay in Milazzo became the touring of the
local fish market and fishing boats along the
beach. It was fun to see
the enormous array of fresh squid, prawns, eels, fish,
shrimp, and even more fun to haggle with the
for a good price. Robert loved the large prawns, and
several batches of them back
in our bungelow, while Jeanie
enjoyed the farmers markets, and experimented in
eggplant and local peppers.
favorite area for exploring and hiking is the tip of the Cape of
Milazzo, once owned by a wealthy Baron who had no heirs. At the
of the property is a beautiful lighthouse, and an ancient keep which looks
across the bay towards the castle. At one time the Baron
employed many locals to maintain the grounds, buildings and olive groves,
but after he
property was donated to the Catholic church. One farmer leased some
land from the church and built
greenhouses, but several years
ago the church doubled his rent, and he was forced to abandon the project.
the once-beautiful greenhouses
are destroyed, no more than piles of mangled metal, broken glass and
blackberry vines, but we met some savvy locals who continue to climb over
the walls to harvest olives from the prolific orchards!
returning to Parelmo and the ferry, we took the advice of some locals and
made a day trip to Tindari, the site of a Greek
Theater and a large
archeological dig. As with most ancient cities, Tindari is built on
a hill overlooking the
coast, and as
is true of all Italian
today, the first thing you see is a Catholic church! But behind the
church we found several
acres of ruins, roads and arches
built out of huge travertine stones.
Ancient Tindari is located about 60 kilometers
west of Messina. Tindari
was settled during the Bronze Age,
approximately 1500 BC. The Syracusan Greeks
arrived in 396 BC,
in 254 BC it became a Roman city. Tindari
supported Pompeii in his war against
Octavian, and was conquered by Agrippa in 36
BC. Augustus made it a colony. The town
suffered the effects of a landslide at the
end of the 1st
century AD, and an
earthquake in 365 AD. Tindari was the
most important Greek city in this
vicinity, though most of what the visitor
sees today was
constructed during the Roman era.
Tindari's amphitheatre was built in the 4th
century BC. It has the ruins of simple
and the so-called
basilica, a fine example of
Greco-Roman architecture begun
in the 4th
century BC and successively modified for use as a meeting place.
There were also baths at Tindari, and some splendid
dwellings with intricate mosaic floors.
There is also a small
on the property, containing statues found on site, as well as a miniature
model of the amphitheater as it may have looked when first built.
The next morning, the temperature had dropped into
the 50's, and we woke to rain
and stormy seas, as a cold front moved
into the region. We packed our car, said goodbye
to Stefania, and drove towards
Palermo. Along the autostrada, we saw
a policeman flagging traffic, warning motorists to slow down. When
we rounded the next corner, we couldn't believe what
we were seeing. Snow had covered the roadway! And as we
approached downtown Palermo, it began to hail, then to sleet!
Summer, and our
camping trip, have definitely come to an end. We
boarded the ferry that evening, and endured a rolling ride on high seas
back to Naples.
~ Robert &