Sunday, 17 May 2015

From Licata to Tunisia via Pantelleria


The start of a sailing season brings mixed feelings: there is the excitement of setting sail and the prospect of new lands and new adventures, but also sadness at saying farewell to so many good friends with whom we share the cruising life. Of course there is every chance we’ll meet again, in a little fishing harbour, on a busy town dock or a deserted bay somewhere, to share our stories and a few cold beers. Ours was a little less tearful than many of the departures as we knew we’d be back in Licata in about a week. We were making the trip to Kelibia in Tunisia to avoid being in the EU for more than 18 months at a time, which would make Common Sense subject to VAT.

Winds at the start of the week had been consistently strong west south-westerlies - just what we didn’t need for the run to the Sicilian island of Pantelleria which lies about 90 nautical miles directly west south-west of Licata. Sunday promised light westerlies, so that looked like our best bet. After the paperwork and all the usual checking and stowing, we slipped out at about 11 am, planning to make Pantelleria the following morning.
 
It really was a fine start to the season, with sunshine, a great view of the rugged Sicilian coast, dolphins, a glassy blue sea and a light breeze. The sails were up and everything seemed to be working, though we did need the motor on most of the time, chugging away at low revs. At one point the smell of burning rubber raised anxiety levels, but it proved to be the new fan belt, which had worked loose and was promptly readjusted by il Capitano. At about the halfway mark of the passage, we met a fleet of thousands of little jellyfish with their bells the shape of perfect translucent sails, scudding along with the wind. A couple of feet below them streamed golden brown jellies with long trailing tentacles – some mysterious jelly migration was underway.

Sailing jellyfish
As the sun set we enjoyed our standby sailing meal of pressure-cooker chicken stew. The temperature dropped steadily and we put on extra clothes layer by layer, relaxing out in the cockpit under the full moon and the softly glowing sails. The AIS proved its value yet again as we dodged various vessels and heard on the VHF that a massive cargo ship was diverting to avoid us.
 
 We took turns to catch a bit of sleep and were pleased to see the volcanic island of Pantelleria rising steeply ahead as the sun rose. Around 0800 we tied up in the Nuovo Porto di Pantelleria, assisted by Leonardo the Harbourmaster and not at all by the highly unreliable bow-thruster.  (Actually, it can pretty much be relied on NOT to work at the critical moment.) We had a couple of hours sleep before attempting anything else.
Hot chicken stew
 
 
It proved to be almost impossible to get off the boat via the passareille as the dock was so high, so we launched Eileen, our dinghy, and tootled around to the Vecchio Porto which is closer to the town centre. The outboard didn’t sound too healthy so it was added to our list of things to check/fix once back in Licata. When they say “vecchio” here, they mean really old – the port housed the Punic fleet a couple of thousand years ago and there is still a line of rocks marking the ancient breakwater. It’s an attractive place; the water is clear and the volcanic soil is rich and well cultivated. There is a pleasant waterfront for the evening passegiata and the pace of life is relaxed. We enjoyed a wander around the town and an excellent fish dinner overlooking the old harbour. A grim note is the large pile of refugee boats rotting away near the new harbour – how desperate would you have to be to take to sea in some of these?
 
 

 
 
 
We had planned to leave for Tunisia the next day, but some instinct woke Terry about 1am and he decided this was our window. Any wind at all in the tiny marina space and we would have been in trouble.  At 01:30 we slipped out of the harbour in the bright moonlight with no wind and were suddenly greeted by 15 knots at the turn on the Heads .  We enjoyed five or six hours of perfect sailing conditions before the wind slackened as the sun rose. We motored the rest of the way, reaching the Tunisian fishing port of Kelibia at about 1030.
Sailing under a full moon

 
First impressions? Hot, dirty, busy, interesting… There was very little room amongst all the blue, white and red fishing boats of varying sizes, so we rafted up next to a big steel ketch, which was in turn rafted next to an even bigger motor boat undergoing a refit. Habib appeared to give us expert assistance – and we noticed him magically appear whenever a boat came in and needed to find a spot or have a line taken. It was quite an event getting on and off the boat, clambering over lifelines and from one vessel to the next, greeting people in a couple of different languages along the way.

First priority was checking in and getting all the paperwork in order to show that we had left the EU.  A feature of Tunisian ports is that the Foreigner Police are at your boat before you've finished tying up and this was no different.  Customs were also summoned and we completed formalities quite quickly.  Harbour fees for our three day stay turned out at 54 Tunisian Dinars in total, or something like $9 per day.
A bit like going from Greece to Turkey, travelling from Sicily to Tunisia we were struck by how hard everyone was working – no siestas or “domani” attitude here. Fishing boats coming and going, the fish markets in full swing, ship repairs, mending nets, boats being sanded and painted, building underway, buying and selling, deliveries, market stalls, taxis. The sights, sounds and smells took us back to our winter in Monastir; the mix of French and Arabic, the smell of mint tea and harissa, the headscarves, and the donkey carts jostling with brand new Citroens.
View of Kelibia Harbour from the fort

Pride in the boats, but little care for the sea
 

The one thing that really upsets me, however, is the total disregard people have for the ocean environment. Sure the Med has been a dumping ground for God-knows-what for thousands of years, but at least it was all organic. And why is it that fishing harbours and fishermen are the worst? You’d imagine that people who make their living from the sea would show a bit more respect for it, but no – every vessel that went out left behind a trail of plastic rubbish, bits of net, waste fish and a greasy slick of fuel, oil or something worse. Here begins my Clean Up the Med campaign, which consists of wearing slogan T shirts, picking up bags and bottles on my kayak runs and ranting in this blog!
Anyway, we used the opportunity of being in Kelibia to visit the ancient site of Kerkouane nearby. The town was sacked and pillaged by the Romans when they destroyed Carthage around 300 BC, but it was not resettled so quite a lot remains of the Carthaginian buildings, along with interesting artefacts found in the town and its necropolis. You can walk right around the streets of the town, observing its homes, artisan quarters and water system. Many of the homes have intact bathrooms with well designed baths for hygiene and relaxation. The town has an idyllic location beside the ocean, with gardens and lawns maintained by a team of local workers – it’s highly recommended for a pleasant and interesting day out.


We stocked up on a few specialties – big, cheap cans of Tunisian tuna, harissa paste, almonds, sweet local bananas – and refuelled while there was no wind in the early morning (though opening times on the fuel dock appear to be ‘suggested opening times’only.)  The fuel cost was 1.25Tunisian Dinars per litre, or 0.61c, a big saving on EU prices.
As we went to present ourselves to the Police to get our passports stamped, we were informed that we had to have a tax stamp of 30TD per person affixed before we could be allowed to go.  We were not informed of this until the last minute, and could have picked these stamps up any time in the three days we were there, as we were quite close to the Tax Office regularly.  But no, nobody thought to mention it and we had a mad scramble in a taxi to get the stamps.  Unfortunately, the Tax Office closes at 16:30 and despite our very courageous taxi driver berating the old grump who ran the Office, he refused to provide the stamps.  Luckily, one of the junior employees advised the driver that a Tabac shop in town carried these things so it was off there via an ATM to pick a couple up, at a slight premium to the 30TD.  Problem solved, thanks to our quick-thinking driver who was well rewarded.

Our last official encounter was an evening visit from Customs just prior to departure. All  visiting boats are inspected, particularly for stowaways but also for the usual stuff – cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, firearms. We didn’t have a strong sense that we were being shaken down, but the inspector did dwell on my stash of Italian wine for a while so I asked in French if he liked wine and he said his wife did, so we gave him a bottle as a ‘gift’. Then we were free to go – in fact we had to go at once!! Before we could sneak any illegals on board.

So it was back to sea, slipping out from between yachts rafted either side, and making directly for Licata, 140 nautical miles almost directly due east. We started out well, motoring with assistance from the 10 knot breeze, then zipping along under sail as the north-west wind increased to 20 – 25 knots. This was great, but as we all know, nothing lasts forever. At about 0530 the wind and sea really picked up and we were a little slow to reef the sails. I wasn’t strong enough to winch in the fiercely flapping genoa, and one of its whipping sheets took a great jagged piece out of the clear window of the dodger – a good lesson to never get in the way of uncontrolled lines! The wind was now 40 – 45 knots with quite a high following sea, so Terry pretty much had to hand steer the next fifty miles, surfing down the waves and trying to avoid the sneaky sets that hit side-on. Meanwhile I was down trying to clean up and stow stuff that hadn’t been prepared well enough for these conditions – another lesson there.

Finally the wind eased a bit as sunset approached, and we saw the very welcome heads of the breakwater at Licata ahead. It was wonderful to get into calm water at last, and to tie up safely on our dock. There was a party in progress, but somehow we weren’t quite up to it. I can’t actually recall anything after readying Common Sense for docking, so I guess it mostly involved sleep! So now we have a few fix-ups and repairs before we head off again in a week or so...


 

 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Time to go....[Terry]


The entrance to Licata.....and the exit
 
We’re almost ready to slip lines and head out into the wide world of the Med for another year’s cruising.  I always have sleepless nights before we leave a long-term port as I run through all the things I haven’t done and whether they matter or not.  Once we hit the heads of any harbour, all care is gone and I am excited to be on our way to St Somewhere.

Since we arrived back on board, we have had the engine serviced, the steering checked, the spreaders inspected by the Admiral, a new gauge fitted to the aft holding tank, a replacement bow thruster/windlass battery installed, an Amp gauge for the wind generator fitted, a few more LEDs replacing a few more old bulbs, a proper US-to-EU gas bottle filling gauge arrived, and the chain stripper refitted to the front of the windlass.

It was a bit of luck that I got Giovanni and Elijah from the boat yard to come to do the engine.  Mostly I wanted someone experienced to look for things I wouldn’t notice.  Sure enough, when Giovanni was changing the alternator belt he heard that a bearing had gone and it was headed for kaputsville.  Alternator off to Giuseppe’s dad to have the bearings replaced.  A good find.  Belt changed, filters changed, oil changed, steering cables checked, gear changer and accelerator cables checked.  All good from Giovanni’s point of view - €150 for him, €40 for Giuseppe’s dad for the alternator.  Good value for money as they do good stuff.

Our starboard spreader is noticeably higher than our port spreader.  This caused a good deal of consideration, with questions back to the Catalina 42 Owner’s association plus other knowledgeable friends.  Carol went up in the climber to have a little look-see and took a few photos.  With the benefit of these, we determined that the gap which we can see between the inner edge of the spreader and the mast has actually been there since at least when we were in St George’s Dinghy Club in Bermuda, so we’ve crossed the Atlantic like that, and sailed all across the Med, up and down, and it hasn’t moved.  So we’ve decided to leave well enough alone.

Giuseppe came to fit the new amp gauge for the wind generator, then back again to help with the new gauge on the aft holding tank.  I fitted the sensor strips but I needed him to sort out the cable that sends the info back to the reader, as it had rotted away in its dank environment.  The nasty part of the exercise is telling the sensor what “full” is and what “empty” is, neither of which can be determined without having the top of the tank open.  Still, it’s done now.  Giuseppe also started to check out why our bow thruster was again not working.  Luckily, the cause was determined in minutes and, as usual, was the remote control.  Another €30 for Giuseppe, and again well spent.

With the help of Miroslav, we found a source in Germany for a fill gauge to a US propane bottle.  If only we had this three years ago we wouldn’t have had to do things like sail from the Bay of Marathon, to Piraeus just to get gas.  Being German, the guys who sold us the fitting added, free, a connector to go from their German tip to make it an Italian tip, because they saw it was being shipped to Italy.  Nothing quite like that German efficiency.  Now, Gustaf, a Finn, but with a US boat, ourselves and Geoff from Tweed Heads all can get our US bottles filled. (Geoff and Pauline on Southern Accent, also bought their boat up in Annapolis where we bought ours).

The chain stripper was problematic.  When it snapped off a few years ago, there was, of course, a substantial amount of force applied to it before the metal sheared.  As a consequence, one of the two screws was bent in its hole and was resisting extraction.  I tried solvents and then an impact driver.  I gave up on the impact driver when it became obvious it wasn’t going to move and all I was doing was driving it around in the same thread and not extracting it at all.  Enter Geoff.  With a flat screwdriver shank, very large, and a pair of Alligator grips, he just took the strain and turned the thing out.  I should mention here that Geoffrey is one giant of a man who is enormously powerful.
Geoff and Pauline

The stripper should make anchor retrieval a lot easier this year.

The outboard now sits on a new support board on the stern – the original finally cracked in two after thousands of miles of stress and strain.  I’ve added stainless steel plates to either side of this one to provide strength and bolted them through in 9 places.  Hard to see it flexing now.

We’ve made a resolution that we will play more seriously with light winds this year to avoid that terrible sound of the engine on for hours  We have our new pole to pole out the genoa, and the spinnaker is going to live tied to the mast in its bag, ready to go up in a flash.  We have made up dedicated sheet/block sets for both situations so there’s not delay in finding any “bits” to run either one out.
 

It was our neighbour, Marina’s birthday yesterday.  She and her hubby Lars have a large powerboat with two magnificent Caterpillar engines, truly a wonder to listen to when Lars starts them up
Lars paying attention to Marina's speech (in case there are questions afterward!)
We sang Happy Birthday to Marina in 10 languages!
 We had a BBQ which got quite out of hand when some people who should have known better started to do feats of athletic prowess that should best be done in the a.m. after stretching instead of 11p.m. after many bottles of wine and beer.  Many slept in for a very long time this morning.  
The birthday girl, Marina from the Marina


Boys being boys
 It’s the end of the month tomorrow and a large number of cruisers will be leaving, as the winter contracts expire.  There will be equally as many who will stay a month or more extra for one reason or another but most will be heading out to cruising grounds in Greece and Malta, and also up into the Adriatic to Venice and over to Croatia and Albania.  We’re stuck because the wind is from the West and we’re trying to get to Pantelleria and on to Tunisia to reset our VAT tax clock.  Everyone else has the wind abeam when they turn out of the heads here but we’ll have it on the nose and 30 hours of that is not something we’re keen to do.  Maybe Sunday? Maybe Monday?

It will be sad to leave Sicily.  My impression from when I was very young, gained from my Sicilian school friends, was that it was bleak and unsupportive.  That’s certainly not the case, as there is superb soil, plenty of water, and the food, wine and meat are magnificent.  The people are both proud and also welcoming.  They are a delight to live among.  There is always the undercurrent of the “southern disease” but on an interpersonal level it is a wonderful place to live for a while.

 Licata by night

 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Montalbano


As many of you know, Terry is a major fan of Montalbano, a Sicilian detective series on SBS Television in Australia. In fact, one of our reasons for choosing Licata as our winter port was its proximity to many of the locations used in the series, as well as the birthplace of Andrea Camilleri who wrote the novels on which it is based. There is huge local enthusiasm for Camilleri and Montalbano: I think Sicilians appreciate having their island associated with a good guy for a change, rather than being known only as the home of the Mafia.
Back in November we took a trip to Agrigento, with a side visit to Porto Empedocle which is the setting for many of the books and close to Camilleri’s former home in the country. After much debate and discussion amongst various locals, we established that the old man is still alive (viva, non morte!), over eighty years of age, living in Rome and has another Montalbano novel coming out this year. There are statues in the town to both the author and the hero of his books.
Last week, Terry and several fellow enthusiasts organised a “Montelbano Tour” to several of the significant TV series locations. We tried to do it via a commercial tour site, but they didn’t bother to respond to repeated messages so we opted to DIY. We were to share a hire car with friends Bernard and Lora from La Lisa, while Ginny and Guy of Kirsty II and their visitors took another.
Unfortunately, our “hire car” which was somebody’s Zio’s car, had a dicky battery and wouldn’t start.  We’re sure they knew this as there were jumper leads in the boot!

As a backstop, we went in Bernard and Lora’s van.  Ok for Bernard and Terry in the front but not so good for Lora and Carol in the back.  Still, we had a bit of fun back there with a running commentary on the scenery coming from the front.
First stop was the castle of Donna Fugata. First glances would suggest that this castle has something to do with a Lady who Flees or is fleeing.  Nope, it is actually a derivative of an Arabic word that passed into the Sicilian dialect as Ronnafuata that means Source of Health.  To confuse matters, there actually was in residence the widowed Queen Bianca of Navarra who was fleeing a sod who needed to marry her to become King of Sicily but she wasn’t having any of that.  The Arabic/Sicilian predates her by a long way.  The castle was sold to the District of Ragusa some 20+ years ago and is very popular with locals and even northerners on holiday.  The grounds are very nice indeed.

Don Balduccio's Terrace

The Montalbano link?  In the series, it is the stronghold of one Balduccio Sinagra, the ageing but still revered Mafia boss of the region around Montalbano’s territory and Montalbano occasionally visits Don Balduccio on the terrace.
Next it was on to Ragusa to the restaurant A Rusticana, Montalbano’s eating house.  Old Ragusa is a locals-only car zone so we had to park a long way from the restaurant and walk down something like 3,000 steps, then up a similar amount.

Ragusa
The restaurant itself is a simple Trattoria so it doesn’t pride itself on anything in particular but what we had, all eight of us, was very nice indeed. 



There are photos and autographs on one wall of members of the cast (unfortunately, no pictures of Catarella!)

Lora and Terry outside Montalbano's restaurant
From Ragusa, it was off to Scicli, a very nice little city indeed, called by one Italian writer the most beautiful city on earth.   The town hall in Scicli is used as the site of Montalbano’s boss’s office, the pompous  Bonetti-Alderighi, the Questore of Montelusa. We asked the lady managing the office if she had ever met Luca Zingaretti, the actor who plays Montalbano. She fluttered a hand over her heart and said simply, 'Si!'

Old Sicilian men watching the world go by
 We were put back by our earlier mishaps and didn’t have time available to do all we wanted but it was nice to be able to visit some of the places we’ve seen in the series.  Ragusa and Scicli are very elegant cities to visit – no street rubbish and very few dogs (and dogs' doings).

Scicli
Unfortunately we enjoyed Ragusa so much that we ran out of time to visit Montalbano's villa at Punta Secca, but it's important to leave something for next time...
The Questore's Office with Terry sitting in Montalbano's accustomed chair
 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Palermo


We caught the inter-city bus directly from Licata to Palermo, capital of Sicily. The trip takes three hours, but the buses are very comfortable, the drivers skilled at negotiating the unpredictable traffic, and it’s an opportunity to take in some of the beautiful scenery. At this time of the year, early spring, the countryside is vividly green, the fruit trees are in blossom and wild flowers splash patches of yellow and crimson across the fields.

Palermo has lots of accommodation options, from exclusive hotels to B&Bs. This time we rented an apartment, Casa Vacanza Bellini, in the old town in what appears to be the Bangladeshi neighbourhood. The extra facilities enabled us to do a bit of our own cooking (with produce from the famous markets) and to wash clothes rather than packing a lot of stuff. It was a perfect location for exploring this beautiful and historic city.
 
Pretoria Fountain in the 'Square of Shame'

Like most of the Med, Sicily has been settled since human history began, and its position in the middle of the Middle Sea has made it a centre of wealth, power, culture and conflict throughout the last 5000 or so years. Palermo itself was an important port for the Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and Bourbons prior to the unification of Italy. Some of the oldest and most beautiful buildings date from the Norman occupation, making them nearly 900 years old. The amusingly named Roger the Norman was responsible for many of these, including the breathtaking Palatine Chapel. Almost every square foot of the chapel is covered in mosaics depicting Biblical themes, in rich blues and golds. The figures are Medieval in style, but much more fluid and expressive than the icons of the Eastern (Greek) church, and they are in perfect condition. It is one of the most beautiful religious artworks I have ever seen. (To quote Terry, “It beats the crap out of the Sistine Chapel.”) The Norman Palace and Monreale Cathedral (built by Roger’s son William) are also spectacular and well worth a visit. You begin to imagine these Norman Kings as enlightened and cultivated leaders until you read that Roger and William shared another hobby of personally devising new and excruciating tortures for their prisoners.
 Mosaics in the Palatine Chapel

 
We toured the lovely Massimo Teatro, where the last part of The Godfather III was filmed (Michael Corleone’s daughter is shot on these steps.) The Royal Box and antechamber never served the King of the time – he said the theatre was far too grand for a second-rate city like Palermo! Sadly, no performances were running while we were in town so we’ll have to make do with Cruisers’ Monday Night Singalong at the Las Vegas Bar in Licata.
 Steps of the Massimo
 
 The royal box - Al Pacino sat here

Palermo is a great town to walk around. It has the usual cafes, bars and restaurants, including some excellent ones representing the migrant groups who have settled there. The shops are fascinating. All the Italian and international brand stores are there, but also lots of tiny, specialised shops – the cravat shop, the beret shop, the puppet mender, the man who crafts inlaid wood, the artisan chocolates, the hand-made baby clothes – and the coffin maker right next door. The public buildings are stately and there are gardens, fountains and a fine waterfront.
Crafting marquetry 
 
Puppet maker's workshop
 
 Majestic ficus tree

The harbour
 
On Sunday we made our way to the famous weekly market, which took up about six full streets – the biggest and best market we’ve yet seen. The fresh produce was amazing, with oranges, strawberries (four euros per kilo!!), and winter vegetables in season. I’ve developed a serious wild asparagus habit, which fortunately is quite sustainable at two euros for a good sized bunch. It will be hard to see the season end, but I will try to console myself with cherries…  Meat, fish, cheeses and fresh pasta - so much to choose from! We bought what we needed, along with a bottle of local wine and enjoyed a fine home-cooked, market-fresh dinner.
 
 
 Sunday market scenes

I was curious to see the Cappuccin Mausoleum – a bit macabre, perhaps but I have rather a fascination with funeral rites and traditions. You learn a lot about a culture from the way it manages death. We made our way to the monastery by taxi as it is a bit out of town, then took the stairs down into the half-lit catacombs. The mummified bodies are either tied upright in niches, or laid out in shelves cut into the rock. All are dressed in the clothing of their time – the monks in their simple hessian robes, the priests in the rags of their regalia, the workmen in the uniforms of their trade, the ladies in remnants of their finery and the children and infants in lovingly stitched robes and bonnets. Most are little more than gaping skulls and skeletons, but some are better preserved, with skin, hair and even eyelashes. One child, known as “the Princess” sleeps perfectly preserved in her sealed glass coffin. A stroll through the various chambers (“the infants”, “the virgins”…) is a powerful Memento Mori which is exactly what the church intended, “to this end we all must come”. The effect was spoiled somewhat by a group of American tourists, laughing, joking and talking so loudly that the attendant had to settle them down. This was obviously their way of dealing with anxiety – as I said, you learn a lot about a culture from the way it handles death.
 
When you compare this to the older postcard shown above, you can see that there are now fewer bodies on display.
The catacombs (from a postcard - no photos permitted)
 

Another pleasant bus ride back to Licata, despite extensive roadworks, and now it’s time to do those last few jobs before setting sail again.
 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

#13th Instalment of the Beer Tour of the World


Beer, Food & Liquor Reviews

  13th Instalment of the Beer Tour of the World




We arrived from Ithaka, Ulysses' capital, in Otranto, Italy.  The closest tavern/café we have is the Quarta Caffe, or the Dolfino, depending on when you knew the place.  It is a simple tavern with beer, coffee, wine etc.  Surprise surprise – he has Tennents on tap!  Nice after an overnighter in less than ideal weather.  He also has bottle beers and I had a Dreher (previously reviewed in these august pages).  A 660cl bottle goes for …….€2.50!    I asked him about wiffy.  He didn’t have wiffy in his bar.  He put his hand over his heart to say “sorry” but he couldn’t afford it in his small café/tavern.   At €2.5 for a 660cl bottle of Dreher (a fine lager for sure) I couldn’t disagree with him and said there was no need to apologise, I would sit outside and drink my Dreher/Tennents and eat the complimentary olives and snacks while watching the sun go down over the Aragonese Castle.  As castles go, I am a great fan of the Aragonese variety, with their fake “come in this way, it’s easy” points.  I commented on this in Malta and also in Kos.  There’s nothing quite like getting your enemy to march a bucketload of guys under fire down a slowly declining plane to find out it’s a dead end!  The sheer delight on the face of the Siege Master when it all came off must have been something to see.

 

G Marabrea e Figli
Blond and Strong. An old Italian brewery of considerable class and style.  This is good stuff.  I've run into it several times since then and it doesn't disappoint, excepting that the Rosso isn't much to write home about.
 

La Quaffe
http://www.achouffe.be/en

Brasserie d’Achouffe, Belgium.  A nice light Belgian, no extra-this or extra-that.  Just good beer.  Hasn’t been around long.  Go to the Website, visit the "Valley of the Fairies" and play the song!

 

Tonnaro – red and blond.  Local brewery, on tap in a busy pizza bar in Otranto.  Pizzas were exceptional and this beer was a good local also.  So small it doesn't have a web presence and the labels seem to be stuck on with Clag.

 

Mastri Birrai Umbri.  5.9% Blond.  750ml wire top bottle

Artisan beer from a family who have had 7 generations producing fine Umbrian products.  Sour, fizzy.  Very nice, with strong hops flavour. 

 

Tuborg Green.
Have no idea what the Green refers to.  Perhaps a little less intense than normal Tuborg.  I prefer the Tuborg Gold you get in Turkey but this is OK.

 

Grimbergen
These guys have been brewing in their Abbey since 1128.  Superlative product.  Makes you want to go on a retreat there.  This is up with the best ever.
 

Angelo Poretti
Another fine Italian product.  Pick it up if it's what's on offer in the pub.  Certainly acceptable.

 
Moretti “Baffo d’Oro”
A special Moretti.  Despite Heineken, whom I despise, owning this brand now, this is a good drop, in contrast with their ordinary Moretti.
 

Prato Rosso
http://www.pratorosso.com/
Great website - you need to look at the opening scenes.
Great beer too.  Getting quite fond of red beer now.
&
Birra Bionda
Artisan beer.  A bit sharpish, like a wheat beer which I suppose it could nearly be.  Double malted, 6.6%
&
Chiara Cruda
https://untappd.com/w/birra-artigianale-khamen/25021
 
I like it better than the Bionda but really they are priced high because they are micro-brewery product and they are competing with beers that are just as good for lower prices.  Nothing against them but no point buying them.

iCavalieri
https://pirkanbeerlog.wordpress.com/category/italy/

Another Umbrian, again double malted and 7.5% ABV.  Not nice.  750ml wire-topped bottle - I could only drink a glass and a half.  Very strong grassy taste, sour and hits you fairly strongly on the alcohol level.  Threw it out.

ps – went back to the supermarket to discover that all the bottles had been removed from the shelf and the ticket was gone also.  The whole batch was off so maybe the beer is better than I thought but the production is questionable.

 

Berlin Premium Lager.
http://www.eza.gr/index.php?lang=en
 

Brewed in Greece.  Brewed to a price but OK for that.  No particular taste other than some fizz and it’s wet.  I do take issue with the company promotion that attempts to suggest this beer has a long and storied history - it doesn't.  If you read carefully, it was created in 2010, despite references in the narrative to The German Purity Act of 1790-something to make it sound older.
 
I also take issue with the claim that it is made with water from Mt Parnassus - it's made in Atalanta, near Piraeus, where we have spent quite some time and like it for its modern industrial vigour, and it sure is not the home of the Gods, Parnassus is. (Parnassus is about 100 miles west - you think they truck water 100 miles??)
 
Not that I am against new beers, unless they are IPAs, because in Australia we once had only Coopers making good beer and all the great additions to the menu are very recent.
 

 
Red Erik
http://www.royalunibrew.com/Default.aspx?ID=467&PageNum=5

 6.5%.  Red from added fruit juices.  Starts off OK but then it gets a little sweet for mine.  OK but only just.  Not to be chased after.  Humorous label, though.  The Scandinavians in the marina thought it was funny.

 
Eichbaum 4.8%  Pilsener.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eichbaum

Fairly sour, sharp beer.  Nice but you can’t drink it quickly.  Known locally in its home town of Mannheim as "Corpse Water",  because the brewery is located alongside the cemetery. Nice, eh?

2nd large can (poured into a glass, naturally) on 18th Nov. was just as good.  Moving up in my list of go-to’s

 

Warsteiner.
http://www.warsteiner.com/#/uk/
I’m sure I’ve had this before but I can’t find it in the records.  Another supermarket special but the brewery has been around since 1753.  Drinkable on a warm day at a BBQ and pleasant enough. 4.8%.  Only criticism is that it’s a bit on the bland side, but it’s not at all sweet, which is good, and not too sharp.  Available in several bars here in Licata.

 

Side Note.
We went to Agrigento for 4 days and while there took a bus down to Porto Empedocle, the port for Agrigento.  We went to see where Andrea Camilleri was born but we were told “a Campagno” so without a car, no go.  However, there is 1. A statue of him in town and 2. A statue of Montalbano (not of Luca Zingarelli, who plays him in the TV series.)  They were setting up for a beer festival in the square alongside the church.  In this beer festival, you could buy 5 (Five) different Hacker-Pschorrs, Paulaner, Becks, Stella Artois, Nastro Azzura and something called DAM which I couldn’t determine.  If you’re going to have a beer night, might as well have 3 of the best Germans, one of the best Belgian lagers and a top Italian also.  Trouble was, it began at 9pm and the last bus back to Agrigento was at 7pm

 
One of the world's great breweries, from Munich
 
Peroni Rosso
 A rich red from one of my favourite breweries. 
 
 
Had a couple with dinner in a restaurant called  "Opera", overlooking the Valley d'Templi
 
McFarland Red
Had this in an Indian restaurant in Catania, Sicily.  Weird combination - Irish beer in an Indian restaurant serving Indonesian Samosas in Italy.  Oh well, that's the modern world.
Made by Murphys Brewery.  Very nice indeed.  2.5 Euros for a 500ml bottle. 
 
Norbertus Heller Bock
Now we are getting to the top end of the beer world.  I had this in bottles in Syracusa a year or so ago and liked it very much indeed then.  This time, we were walking back from the Vatican to our apartment in Rome and it began to rain.  We ducked into a nice modern suburban bar/café for a spell and this was on tap (La Spina in Italy).  Amazing - one of the worlds great beers over the counter and 3 euros for a 600ml glass.  Had to have a couple.
 
 Home in Oz again.
Coopers to the left of me, Coopers to the right.  Coopers everywhere.  Wonderful way to be.  Good to see some great new additions also.
 
Began to question my judgement on the way back so I went and bought a six-pack of VB and a sixer of Nastro Azzurro.  Had Carol pour them into identical glasses, remove the bottles and the caps and give me a taste test.  Sure enough, the VB was instantly identifiable as pure crap.  I managed to palm off the rest of the pack to my nephew.  Drank the Nastro.
 
Have tried a couple of Squires' offerings and liked them - despite being owned by a major brewery, they seem to have been left alone to do their own thing.  Had lots of Coopers. 
 
I was also introduced to Nail Brewery's Pale Ale - very nice indeed.
Currently drinking Lowenbrau, which I managed to score at BWS for $36 a carton, which is getting down to a very reasonable price.
 
There really is no reason to drink the rubbish put out by the likes of VB, XXXX etc when there are so many better offerings out there.
 


 

Living in Licata


We’ve been back on Common Sense in Licata for almost a month but we’ve been boat-bound for a lot of that time by wet, windy weather and a particularly bad bout of man-flu for Terry. He’s only just starting to recover with the first of the very welcome spring sunshine. The situation has been redeemed somewhat by the pleasant company of the international cruising community here, with all the usual happy hours, Sunday barbecues, fitness groups and other activities, along with typical Sicilian life in the town. On a normal day we might have a morning Pilates class with Dave, then a ten minute walk into town to pick up a few oranges or tomatoes from Frutteria Rosso or bread from the paneria, followed by a coffee at any number of great little cafes. There is usually a bit of boatwork to do – fixing something, cleaning or working on some improvement project. Lunch – soup, bread, cheese or whatever is good at the market – then rest, read, write, play boules or molkke, whatever you like until it’s time for a drink with friends, a passegiata around town, perhaps a meal at one of the many restaurants ranging from simple pizzerias to some very fine dining. A film from our ridiculously large collection, maybe, then sleep to the gentle rocking of the boat. Or in a few recent cases, heeling to starboard and listening to the wind howl. The marina is well constructed so at least we haven’t had any swell to deal with.
Playing Molkke

Walking around town is a pleasure. Almost everyone nods or greets you with a buongiorno or buona sera, and the well-to-do older people especially dress in their smart clothes to go for a stroll. Three quarter coats, smart hats and fine shoes are the look for both ladies and gents. Young people are pretty stylish – even five year olds have trendy soccer star haircuts and wear their scarves just right. The old blokes hang out at the cafes, just as they do through the entire Mediterranean, but here they are welcoming and jovial rather than stern-faced and a bit threatening as they are in some places. Shop keepers and restaurateurs treat you like their long lost best friend – a sign of hard financial times, perhaps, but I think it is the authentic Siciliano character, generous and expressive. Terry has become very close friends with the nice lady in the central Farmacia.

 I always enjoy the little architectural surprises that you find in towns that have been lived in for a very long time.
Grotesques on the bank, modelled on the board of directors?

So now we are just awaiting a new battery, then after the Easter celebrations (the crucified Christ icon will be carried through town this evening then he’s due to rise for another parade on Sunday) we will head off by land for a bit of sight-seeing. The plan is to do the Montalbano tour next – we’ll keep you posted.
Thousands gather to watch the crucifixion

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Home, then Rome (then Home),


Ten weeks at home in Perth and the south west has flown by in a bit of a blur – in this case a very pleasant blur of sunshine, white beaches, clear blue water, coffee, drinks or meals with dear friends, house and dog-sitting, medicals, haircuts (for me, not Terry) and other personal maintenance, family gatherings and time with our kids, several new babies to welcome, all culminating in a gorgeous country wedding at our friends’ farm. The downside of life in Western Australia? The endless sprawling suburbs and accompanying aggressive traffic of Perth, the high cost of living and the isolation from everywhere else, resulting in long, long flights to the rest of the world.
Christmas in Perth

 
Terry bonding with our beautiful great-niece, Pia
 
On the positive side again, arriving in Perth International is now very quick and easy.  The electronic recognition system is superb and you no longer have to stand in an outrageously long queue while indifferent Immigration bureaucrats dawdle over each incoming returnee.  It never made any sense trying to complain about the lack of service – they and their bosses knew exactly how little they were doing to expedite the wait.  Removing them from the process is wonderful.  Departing Perth not so good yet but when the upper level renovations are completed it should be fine.

Apart from spending many weeks with Pauline, cooking up a storm, buying new toys like remote FM headphones for the TV, being treated to a fantastic birthday dinner and going on photographic trips, we spent time at Terry’s brother’s house and then at his sister’s house while she was away.  We got to spend some quality time with our nephew Louis and enjoyed his company, as well as that of Oscar the dog. It was great to meet Martin's new (to us) partner Claire, and to do some long overdue mother-daughter stuff with Lizzy (and Keith - nice hair!)
Martin and Claire
 
Down home, we spent a couple of weeks in our home-away-from home while Andy and Cherry were off in France and were entrusted this time with looking after Nala the Labrador.  She can be a bit of a handful as she is quite cunning but overall it was nice to take her for walks and have her following us around the house, presenting us with a dried gumleaf from the garden each time we returned home.  Andy and Cherry installed a new oven last year and Terry says it’s the best thing ever – it is a magnificent Electrolux with all sorts of whizz-bang features, plus a second oven below.  The matching cooktop was also a treat.

On our second trip “down south” we stayed with our friends Leonie and Steve.  Unfortunately, school terms had recommenced so they couldn’t be home during the day but we did enjoy our evenings.  Steve and Terry had a mini beer-tasting and we had a great time catching up on travel gossip (Steve and Leonie have visited about 50 countries to date.) Morning swims with Kath, Kim and the crew were wonderful, and something I will sadly miss until the weather warms up here.
Lots of good times with good friends
 
We had plenty of time to chase Geocaches this time and managed to get 61 while we were home, our best ever haul. Our final week was Hayley and Bryce’s wedding at the Lone Crow vineyard, and a wonderful country wedding it was, with Jenny and Robbie’s farm looking splendid and contributions from friends and relatives making it an especially memorable day. I wish I’d kept my menu – the food was all sourced locally and grown, caught, cooked and served by friends and neighbours – it was awesome. Hayley and Bryce looked radiantly happy, and the bridesmaids were particularly stunning (:
Proud dad and lovely daughter
 
Bridesmaids delivered by tractor
 

On our last day in Bunbury, we enjoyed a birthday lunch with our friends Ann, Robin, Colin, Sol, Simone, Michael and Glenys  and Paddy, our ancient garden gnome who is under Ann's care while we're away, at the Water’s Edge restaurant.  It was a great way to wind up the summer. Heartfelt thanks once again to everyone who put us up, or put up with us! After three more days in Perth, it was time to leave again for our home on the water, Common Sense.

So, after yet another long flight, here we were again in Rome, this time staying at a nice little B&B near the Vatican.  Named “ La Lanterna di San Pietro” after the illuminated dome of St Peter’s that can be viewed from the balcony, it has very comfortable beds, a wonderful hot bath/shower, fresh croissants and coffee for breakfast and best of all, the lovely Silvia, who speaks excellent English and can help you with anything you need to know about Rome. (p.s. – it also has a lift!!)

 
Silvia
Roman breakfast at La Lanterna
 

Our first day dawned in teeming rain, so it seemed like a good idea to spend it inside the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s. A lot of other people obviously had the same thought, though I’m sure it is way more crowded in the high season. The Vatican has to be one of the ultimate people-watching locations on earth – flocks of nuns of many denominations, earnest American Bible study groups, important men in fine suits, colourful African delegations and tourists of every nation milling about, stopping to snap the inevitable selfie with the majestic cathedral as background. Our guide, Silvio, was easy to follow through the throng: a six-foot-four giant with ginger hair and a booming voice, he was adept at crowd control and passionate about art. Particularly fascinating were the contrasts he drew between the serenity and perfection of “religious art” and the realism and energy of the Humanists. The highlight of the Basilica for me was the beautiful Pieta. I couldn't believe we were really there looking at the most perfect of Renaissance sculptures (in my humble opinion!)
Michelangelo's Pieta

Of course the crowning glory of Renaissance humanist art is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It is revered as a holy site – the chapel where the cardinals gather to pray for guidance as they elect a new Pope – so silence and respectful behaviour are required. But to me, the whole glorious edifice seems to be a shrine to the human body, specifically the male body, in all its sinewy strength, suffering and drama. I’m sure that many others have observed that even the female figures are drawn from male models, either powerfully muscled athletes or beautiful boys – with breasts attached as a kind of afterthought. Some theorise that it is also a shrine to the human mind. God’s cloak in the creation scene forms a perfect cross-section of a brain (Michelangelo was a keen practical anatomist), the whole composition hinting that the idea of God is contained within the human mind. That kind of heretical thinking would probably get you excommunicated even today!  Terry was distinctly underwhelmed by the Chapel but was in awe of the Basilica; homoerotic art doesn’t seem to be his thing.

We managed to do a bit of geocaching in Rome, despite the challenges of litter, crowds and an abiding concern about lurking suspiciously near important landmarks. Italy seems to have about fifteen separate police forces and I don’t imagine any of them take kindly to suspected terrorists! Nevertheless we had a few successes, and took our tally to 300 across about ten countries.

Our third day was fine and cold, perfect for a kind of rally through some of Rome’s finest old churches in search of works by my favourite Italian painter, Caravaggio. Silvia turned out to be a fellow enthusiast, and she helped us to create a walking plan.
 
The Martyrdom of St Matthew
 
 

My first encounter with Caravaggio’s painting “in real life” was in St John’s Co-Cathedral in Malta, where two amazing paintings stand out, even in the richest and most ornate context you can imagine. “The Beheading of John the Baptist” is like a snapshot at the moment of highest drama, with the figures and their facial expressions vividly lit against the darkness. “St Jerome Writing” is a similar work of chiaroscuro but its mood is a total contrast. The old man is all quiet power and concentration. In Rome on our last visit we saw the graphic and quite horrifying “Judith Beheading Holofernes” in the Palazzo Barbarini. The realism of the characters makes it look like a still from a horror drama - it’s as though Caravaggio has invented stage lighting in his imagination, ising a ‘spotlight’ to emphasise stricken faces and violent gestures. On this latest walk we first found the ancient church of Santa Maria del Popolo, where “The Crucifixion of St Peter” and “The Conversion of St Paul” hang in a small chapel. Three paintings from the life of St Matthew hang in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, and there is a wonderful Madonna in the church of Sant’ Agostino, famous for the dirty feet of the pilgrims who dominate the foreground. All the pictures have such power because they represent people struggling and suffering, not beatific saints with painted haloes. They make every other painting in a place seem pallid and lifeless. Caravaggio’s life was as full of passion and violence as his paintings – but you can read about that elsewhere.

Madonna (and the dirty-footed pilgrims)
 

Of course it’s Italy and you can’t forget about food, even if you wanted to. There was yet another great fresh market near our place, Mercato Trionfale (called “the stomach of Rome”) with mounds of oranges, artichokes and gigantic cauliflowers the big items of seasonal produce, bulk wine to be bottled, butchers, cheese vendors and bakers.  We grabbed two simple pork rolls in fresh bread (€3) and took them on a walk down to the Tiber. Later that night, we enjoyed an excellent meal at Falcone’s, recommended by Silvia as typical of the local fare. Each day we took a Hobbit-style ‘second breakfast’ at a magnificent Sicilian pasticceria presided over by a vivacious young woman from Transylvania. How do Italians stay relatively slim surrounded by all this? (1. Walking up hills 2. Smoking like chimneys)
Second breakfast...
Market produce
Winter walk along the Tiber
 
And then, after one last wonderful hot bath at La Lanterna, it was time to hop on the overnight bus to Licata to see how Common Sense had fared in our long absence.
Now a few random pictures of things that amused me...
Authentic wild boar sausages
We repair dolls, ornaments and holy icons
Another Memento Mori
Smart cars get to park like this. Or on the footpath.