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From Anzio, to Napoli, to Sicilia!

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Monday, October 8 - Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Click here for an enlargementOur 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, soClick here for an enlargement we've started reading and researching possible new directions to travel.  Our guidebook recommended heading south, and with the cooler October weather, this seemed like an excellent idea.  So on October 8th we packed the car and drove southwest, bypassing Rome, to the towns of Nettuno & Anzio, the site of a click here for enlargementmajor battle during World War Two.  Between January & May 1944, Allied forcesClick here for an enlargement landed at Anzio and fought to reach Rome, which they finally did liberate on June 4th, 1944. 

   Our reason for stopping in Nettuno is to visit the American Cemetery & Memorial, beautifully maintained on Click here for an enlargement77 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 theClick here for an enlargement 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 Click here for an enlargementcemetery, and about their own memories as soldiers.

There wasn't 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.

The next morning began with rain, and we were thrilled to have a place to relax forClick here for an enlargement 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 Click here for an enlargementrecommendation for lunch (pizza, pizza, or pizza), and then spent the afternoon wandering through the streets of the old city before returning to our room Wednesday night.Click here for an enlargement

Thursday's weather was much improved, so we packed up & got outside early.  We drove south on the autostrada about an hour, past Mt. Vesuvius, Pompeii, and Sorrento, to the Amalfi Coast.  Renowned for its rugged terrain, Click here for an enlargementscenic beauty, picturesque towns and diversity, the Amalfi Coast is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site Since we have been house-sitting in central Italy,Click here for an enlargement we haven't seen the ocean in three months.  Jeanie is homesick for the sea!  Luckily, we started on Click here for an enlargementthe southern end of the drive, in the opposite direction of the tour busses, so we had many of the views to ourselves.  The cliffs offered some excellent views of the Mediterranean and some very interesting architecture, and weclick here for an enlargement stopped for a picnic in Positano.  Yesterday's rain storm has cooled the land and the water, and unfortunately, swimming here is not a pleasant option today.  So today's outing is click here for an enlargementjust to see this unique area.  Sailing yachts, narrow switchbacks, & mansions cut into the hillsides.  Reminds us of Santa Barbara!

By 6pm we are back at the dock in Naples, parked inClick here for an enlargement line 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 Click here for an enlargementcouches, with our sleeping 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!

After 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 cityClick here for an enlargement center and walked around town for an hour, had coffee and fresh croissants, and watched the locals come and go.  It was easy to Click here for an enlargementfeel the "island 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 soundedClick here for an enlargement particularly interesting was the northwest coast of Sicily, and the towns of 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 sleepingClick here for an enlargement 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 Click here for an enlargementcamp, built a small fire, and watched the stars until sleep finally overtook us.

On Saturday morning we woke before dawn, enjoying our quietClick here for an enlargement 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.

Click here for an enlargementBack in the car, we decided to try another area of Sicily, the townClick here for an enlargement 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 Click here for an enlargementCastelmare de Golfo, with ancient cathedrals and ruins from Greek, Roman, and Norman conquerors.   It even has anClick here for an enlargement ancient Laundromat (Lavatoio Medievale)!  It was a fascinating town to see and explore, so we did some window shopping, and Robert found more great seafood!  The weather was bringing some rain that night, so we click here for an enlargementtent-camped at a large German-ownedClick here for an enlargement campground outside of town, "Camping Costa Ponente", where we did our laundry (in a modern sink) and repacked the car. 

Our next stop along the coast was the town of Milazzo, about a Click here for an enlargementtwo-hour drive away, and we headed there because we had readClick here for an enlargement 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 click here for an enlargementcampgrounds still open, since many of the more secluded areas had already closed for the season.  We found a campground calledclick here for an enlargement 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 Click here for an enlargementwho had ridden their motorcycles all the way down the Italian mainland!

That week we explored the Castello di Milazzo, which dates back to 4000Click here for an enlargement 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 Click here for an enlargementthe 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 theClick here for an enlargement 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 click here for an enlargementdamage in the 18th century, and after devastation in the Bourbon period it became a prison, which it remained until 1960.  We took a guidedclick here for an enlargement tour through the fortress, and enjoyed some fabulous views of the city & port below.

click here for an enlargementOne of the daily highlights of our stay in Milazzo became the touring of the local fish market and fishing boats along theclick here for an enlargement beach.  It was fun to see the enormous array of fresh squid, prawns, eels, fish, octopus and shrimp, and even more fun to haggle with the fishermen for a good price.  Robert loved the large prawns, and click here for an enlargementboiled several batches of them back in our bungelow, while Jeanie enjoyed the farmers markets, and experimented in cooking with eggplant and local peppers.Click here for an enlargement

Another 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 Click here for an enlargementedge of the property is a beautiful lighthouse, and an ancient keep which looks across the bay towards the castle.  At one time the BaronClick here for an enlargement employed many locals to maintain the grounds, buildings and olive groves, but after he died the property was donated to the Catholic church.  One farmer leased some land from the church and built several greenhouses, but several years ago the church doubled his rent, and he was forced to abandon the project.  click here for enlargementNow the once-beautiful greenhouses areClick here for an enlargement 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!

Before returning to Parelmo and the ferry, we took the advice of some locals andClick here for an enlargement made a day trip to Tindari, the site of a Greek Theater and a large Click here for an enlargementand ongoing archeological dig.  As with most ancient cities, Tindari is built on a hill overlooking the Tyrrhenian coast, and as is true of all Italian cities today, the first thing you see is a Catholic church!  But behind the church we found severalClick here for an enlargement Click here for an enlargementhundred 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,Click here for an enlargement Click here for an enlargementand 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 Click here for an enlargementearthquake in 365 AD.  Tindari was the most important Greek city in this vicinity, though most of what the visitor sees today wasClick here for an enlargement constructed during the Roman era.

Tindari's amphitheatre was built in the 4th century BC. It has the ruins of simple temples and the so-called Click here for an enlargementbasilica, a fine example of Greco-Roman architecture begun in the 4th century BC and successively modified for use asClick here for an enlargement a meeting place. There were also baths at Tindari, and some splendid dwellings with intricate mosaic floors.  There is also a small Click here for an enlargementmuseum 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 rainClick here for an enlargement and stormy seas, as a cold front moved into the region.  We packed our car, said goodbye to Stefania, and drove towards Click here for an enlargementPalermo.  Along the autostrada, we saw a policeman flagging traffic, warning motorists to slow down.  When we rounded the next corner, we couldn't believe whatClick here for an enlargement we were seeing.  Snow had covered the roadway!  And as we approached downtown Palermo, it began to hail, then to sleet!  Summer, and our Click here for an enlargementcamping 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 & Jeanie 


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