Monday, 17 August 2015

Porto di Roma to Elba

Grand sea views must be something we’ve only recently come to value. It seems that in the past, explorers would discover a lovely island or a dramatic bit of coastline and say to themselves, “This spot would make a splendid prison/asylum/leper colony/cemetery!” The island of Elba, largest of the Tuscan Islands, would have to be one of the world’s most beautiful prisons – though I suppose that’s a bit of a stretch as Napoleon had a pretty free range of the island and he was only here for nine months. The Elbans remember him fondly; an incurable leader, he organised to have roads built and reformed the punitive tax laws on the island. His death-mask has pride of place in the palazzo which is now a museum.
Elba - mountains, forests, clear blue bays

Our passage to Elba from Porto di Roma wasn’t ideal – sloppy short chop and variable winds all the way.  We bypassed Isola Giglio as the moorings didn’t look at all inviting, checking out the site of the Costa Concordia disaster on the way through. More slop and chop, then finally a couple of hours of sail until we put down the anchor in Porto Azzura, Elba, at 1700. Any excuse to get in the water, I checked our anchor and found a surprising bonus - right beneath us was a perfectly good mooring block, still with loop, but minus float! Terry hooked us up, we left the anchor down as a decoy and voila! We weren’t going anywhere.
Sea turtle rescue! We found three floating mid ocean - gave them away to kids

Rocks where the Costa Concordia struck

And that was just as well, as our second day saw the arrival of one of those sudden, spectacular thunder storms that appear out of nowhere in these parts, no doubt because of all the warm humid air being pushed up mountains and cooling quickly. Well this one precipitated great lumps of hail that really hurt when they hit you, but were handy for cooling the evening Aperols.
Thunderstorm - I snagged a lightning strike!

Porto Azzura is a stunning anchorage, with room for at least 100 boats at anchor –and that was just as well too, because the summer crowds were out in force. Despite this, Elba felt very relaxed and friendly – it is a fertile island and has a bit of a rural feel to it once you get away from the immediate waterfront in the main towns. We hopped on a local bus to see some of the countryside, which is mountains, forest and rich farmland, and the main ferry port at Portoferraio. The port is so named because Elba has some good iron ore deposits, which have been mined and shipped from here since ancient times – so this is where a few of those helmets, swords and bronze gods in the museums had their origins, perhaps.
Porto Azzura

Fertile farmlands in the valleys

Five days of exploring, swimming, reading and a few drinks and excellent meals ashore passed surprisingly quickly, as is the whole summer, in fact. So, with so much more of Italy still to see, we decided to park Common Sense in a low cost marina at the mouth of the Arno River for a week and jump on a train to Florence and Siena…

Pizza - simple and perfect

Beer Blogger hard at work

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Porto Ercole and the Feniglia (Terry)

Marina Cala Galera

We are in the most upmarket marina we have ever been in – Marina di Cala Galera.  We always thought of Tuscany as rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves but it has coastline, too, and the marinas are as expensive as renting a villa (enough to make a Perth Dietitian cringe at the thought)

Not a lot of wind about in the bay

We arrived in this bay last week sometime, perhaps Wednesday, perhaps Thursday, and stayed out in the bay on the anchor for a few days.  First we were down the Ansedonia end, anchored off a beach that separates the sea from two separate salines.  The beach is part of a strip of land called La Tombola di Feniglia, or most commonly “The Feniglia”.  No cars here, just a bike track for 7kms to the other end, the Porto Ercole (yes, Hercules was here, too!) end.  

La Feniglia showing the first of two lagoons inside

The beach is crowded from morn-to-mosquito-time, when the sods come out in their gazillions.  We can confirm this as we dinghied down to get a geocache and were almost bodily removed from the earth.  A can of Mortein mightn’t have done for them all but it would have evened the odds and made me feel better.

In the forest of the Feniglia - small deer here, too.

The Beach of La Feniglia

The beach was the site of the death of Caravaggio, the Admiral’s most admired painter, and a cause of pilgrimage wherever one of his paintings is on display – of course, there are many in Rome to visit and also there is his most famous in Malta, the death of John the Baptist, a theme he painted several times.

Caravaggio monument

We dinghied in to Porto Ercole twice, then decided to move up the bay a little closer.  More jumping in to clear water, swimming, reading, drinking Italian beer and generally slacking off and a visit to the Macelleria and Grocer for supplies.  Armed with fresh produce, we had steak with local garlic and onions one night, then chicken legs in egg, breadcrumbs and herbs another.

Finally, we decided to move into the marina here, Cala Galera.  Our first inquiry was met with “€130 per night”.  Well, we might be foreign but we ain’t that dumb so we passed, with good grace of course.  A return phone call offered €110 per night, again not enticing enough to leave the real estate of the bay.  Finally, unexpectedly, a call came from the lady who owned the slip we are in offering €70 per night.  Now this is way over what we would ordinarily consider, having just paid €56 a night in Rome in the high season but we reasoned that we are only in Tuscany in summer once in our lives so shut up and pay the lady.  She lives over by the thermal mud baths near here and has an estate with a lake on it, so we assume she is reasonably well-off.  She does drive a kidnap-avoidance vehicle, though, which is smart (a Hyundai).  The rest of the clientele in this marina are in Range Rovers, Jaguars, BMWs, Porsche Boxsters, Porsche Cayennes, and even one Ferrari Testarossa.  

Not a Ferrari Testarossa - an old Fiat with ancient Roma plates on it

Their boats are not shabby either, with thundering great V8 diesels filling the air on Saturday and Sunday when they come up from Rome for the weekend.  A fair proportion are sailboats of considerable fitout, and the owners are no mere fancy-pants owners.  They sure can handle their boats with skill, some even skidding through the anchorage outside first before heading West to the Tuscan islands for a weekend stay without a hint of a collision.

Porto Ercole

We have been in to Porto Ercole every day since being here, having been shown a shortcut up behind the naval works (they used to make boats here), around a mountain track and down onto the main road.  Neat.  Last night, we tried to eat at a famous pizza place but it was crowded out so we moved a couple of doors up to a restaurant we'd had lunch at a couple of days ago.  Lots of beers, Aperol Spritz and simple seafood pasta dishes and we were full for the walk home back around the base of the mountain.

Lampada Restaurant

Today, we found the pizza place uncrowded at lunch and had simple pizza slices for €0.50c a slice.  The drinks were twice the price of the pizza!
The owner, Antonio, is reportedly planning to take his pizza to the USA.  It is certainly special, with a mixture of OO flour, Soy flour and some unspokens also– his pizza is light to eat and there is no heaviness at all.  

Strangely enough, I happened to be wearing my Route 66 Oatman Arizona tee and he stared and then said “I have the exact same tee.  I went camping there with my father in law!”  Small world – Oatman is only about 15 miles from Carol’s mother’s house.  Small world #2 – the lady who owns the slip we are in has a gardener who has looked after her place for about 10 years.  Originally from Sweden, he migrated to ….. Fremantle, Western Australia – she asked if we knew where that was?  Yes, that’s where Common Sense is home-ported.  She was amazed.  It’s where his children are, one an engineer and the other a Headmistress of a school.

A trip up to the closest fort to find a geocache was unproductive.  Not sure where it is but it appears to be on private land and that for us is a no-go, even if we are in Italy.  Up the hill for quite a way, down the hill, into town, up the far end of town, back again, back to the far end to the old quarter and then finally back to the Co-op and around the mountain to the marina.  

On our last day, we indulged in that favourite adventure of cruisers "Let's see where the bus goes to?"  Buy a couple of tickets, find out when the last one back is and off you go to wherever it finishes up.  Great cheap fun.  We took the bus to Orbetello, the small city on a strip of land in the middle of the two lagoons.  It has been a settlement since Etruscan times, 8th Cent BC.  Unfortunately, the museo only opens on the weekends and public holidays so we couldn't check out the artifacts collected around there.  Took the opportunity to get another Geocache and had a nice lunch in a Pizzeria that has been trading since 1958.  Easy to see why they are still in business given our two meals and drinks for the grand sum of 10 Euros.

The 2nd lagoon, Laguna Ponente

Some of you may know that I did considerable damage to my big toe in Rome several weeks ago and have been warding off infection and the like ever since.  Well, the hike didn’t help matters at all so I think I’ll have to stay off it for a while now.  It was also very taxing on Carol so a nice sea voyage is in the planning.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


Scario is just a small fishing village and holiday resort south of Napoli in the Gulf of Policastro, but we found it a delightful place to spend a few days. Nestled in amongst the rugged cliffs, caves and grottoes of the south west coast of mainland Italy, Scario shares the picturesque qualities of the Amalfi coast without its overexposure. The houses are weathered stone or stucco in creams, pinks and yellows, and the town clearly takes pride in its gardens. At this time of year fruit trees are laden and there are vivid flowers everywhere, while shade trees provide relief from the intense sun of high summer. The town’s backdrop is mountains skirted by pine and cedar forest.

Tourism seems to be fairly low-key. Families from Rome have their holiday villas and apartments here, along with a scattering of foreigners, but the town seems to be a ‘real’ town with butchers and hardware stores as well as the restaurants and bars, along with a sense of community.  On the evening we arrived, the church was filled to overflowing with people celebrating Mass accompanied by the local children’s choir. The evening passegiata along the waterfront was always a friendly and colourful affair, with stylish summer fashions, new babies on display, the elderly arm in arm with a strong young grandson or daughter and of course all the children high on gelato at midnight.

Waterfront promenade, before the evening crowds
The old boys gather for cards
We had a couple of excellent meals at a family ristorante called La Piazzetta where I had a lovely rich seafood risotto and a lesson in the correct way to eat cigale.  Terry had pasta with mixed mushrooms.
 La Piazzetta
Besides a sheltered harbour at reasonable cost, Scario also has clear water for swimming, pleasant places to walk – and did I mention the gardens? We happened to see a post in the real estate agent’s office offering a ‘small villa with garden’ for €98,000 – very tempting!
 Old buildings nestling amongst the villas

 A beautiful waterfront


Under the Volcano

It’s easy to see that most of the Aeolian Islands are the peaks of volcanic mountains, with their feet thousands of metres below the sea. They are rugged and steep-to, offering little in the way of anchorages and great opportunities for high season rip-offs in the few small harbours. From Cefalu we made for the island of Filicudi, where there are moorings available – at a cost. €50 to the grumpy bloke in the dinghy and we had the pleasure of a rocky night on a mooring ball in the bay. We stayed aboard as we didn’t feel like spending any more in the town, but I did paddle the kayak in next morning for some bread and a coffee. It seemed a pleasant enough place, and the volcanic slopes, terraced all the way up, are an impressive sight.

Next day we planned our passage to do a ‘drive by’ of Stromboli at sunset. Stromboli is a continuously active volcano, releasing pressure a bit at a time rather than building up to a major eruption like Etna or Vesuvius. It really is an awesome thing to see, with the massive sciara del fuoco (flow of fire) like a vast, steaming bitumen road down the north west slope of the mountain. As the sun set, a fleet of tour boats gathered to watch the rose-tinted clouds drifting over the crater and its regular bursts of fire. Watching a volcano erupt is one of those thrilling, primal experiences, especially when you can hear and feel its rumbling power. You wonder why people choose to live in the shadow of these unpredictable monsters – until you see the vineyards, citrus groves and fields of vegetables thriving in the rich, deep volcanic soil.
Sciara del Fuoco (note the yacht for scale)
Stromboli erupts
Then off into the night, assisted by a light breeze, to Cetraro then north to the Bay of Naples.

#14th Instalment of the Beer Tour of the World

Beer, Food & Liquor Reviews

#14th  Instalment of the Beer Tour of the World

 Franziskaner Weissbeer Dunkel

Not a great fan of Weissbeer but this is Dunkel – Dark – and richer than the sharp bitey wheat beers I am not fond of.  Part of the Spaten brewery of Munich (they combined some years ago).

I like it a lot, but it is for drinking with a winter meal, not around a summer BBQ.  Latest convert is my mate Robbie.

Prinz Brau

Not all that flash.  Waste of good tin actually; probably could have made a whistle from it instead.


Nice.  Available in LIDL for about 59c per 500ml bottle.  Very common in supermarkets all over Italy.  Decent drop, although the bottles tend to be a bit sweet occasionally – perhaps this stuff ages differently?  Not sure but cold it’s good.

Badger Champion, Badger Tanglefoot and Badger First Gold.

My friend Bernard is a Badger devotee.  I didn’t like the First Gold as I thought it too fruity.  The Champion is heading that way with Elderflower in it but it’s only a hint and is not a bad drop.  The Tanglefoot is sharp and bitter.  Haven’t made my mind up about it yet.  Need more to go on.  Bernard, open some more.


Oro Tari

This is a Sicilian craft beer from a very new micro brewery.  The website is a bit difficult to navigate but it is quite rich in detail (no language flag for English but the En at the end of the bar will do it)

Another artisan beer.  A bit sourish, with not as much head, but nice enough.  They do a reasonable range and also have a tasting room.  Be worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity
They make about 9 beers and the Oro is what you might call a standard.  It is very much like the lager style beers we have in WA and is very nice indeed.  Comes in 750ml bottles, no small ones so they’re good to share.  Or not.  These guys are only about 5 years old and they are doing a great job.  Can’t remember the price but it is worth it.  A rich lager with, thankfully, no attempt to flower it up.  It is a real pity that I found this on our last night in Licata before heading north, instead of the first night when we could have organized a tour to the brewery, which is not all that far from Licata.  Found it again in an Enoteca/restaurant in Cefalu.

Wonder if they’re related to the Conti’s in Western Australia (Wanneroo)

Trapani beers

A newish brewery that seems to be part of a wine-making enterprise.  Can’t exactly identify it on the net.  Had two of their very limited production beers, a simple Classico lager and a Weiss.  Both were expensive, at least on the main drag in Trapani, but both were big bottles for €8 and very nice indeed, and I don’t normally like Weiss beers.  Made by Donnadicoppe, which is the wine concern, and each with its distinctive beer coaster, it would be worth trying at least these two if you ever find yourself in the glorious city of Trapani.  p.s. I could live in Trapani.

86 Red.

Had an 86 before, called Bavaria 86 but it is from Holland.  It was 7.9% and I liked it a lot, though cautioned one and all about overindulgence at this level of Alc. 

This one is disgusting.  Tastes like it has been sweetened with saccharine.  Without a doubt it’s worse than XXXX or that SA Southwark thing or VB.  Had a couple of sips, Carol had a couple of sips, rest down the sink.
And I’ve taken to Reds lately, too.  Not this one.  Just goes to prove that life as a beer taster is (sorry, gross metaphor coming) “not all beer and skittles”.  Had to say that.

Birra Messina

Not sure of the history of this but it is a standard sharpish nice lager.  Then I saw that it was made by Heineken.  Surprised me as it’s not their usual rubbish.  Maybe they bought this brewery and then left it to run itself?  Unlike them, but there must be a reason why it tastes OK.

Not expensive, either.  Got it in a small supermarket in Trapani for about €1.20 for a 500ml bottle.

Birra Vittoria Grazie Mille.

 No website found – the above link takes you to a single page.  An artisan beer from Sicily.  8% but doesn’t taste all that strong.  Very nice – strong golden colour, with the usual bottle-fermented sediment.  Strong head – mine came with a narrowed-neck glass and overflowed instantly.  Perhaps an open glass would be better.


Big bottle for €1.10.  Premium lager.  Ok but nothing special. Better value around if you look but I wouldn’t hand it back if I was offered one.

G..Marabrea e Figli.

 I’ve had the Strong before but this time was offered the blonde in La Piazzeta in Scario.

Was very nice indeed, from a family that has been brewing since the 1840s,  To give a better picture of the offering, it almost qualifies as a major brewery and can be found in great numbers of restaurants and cafes.  Easy to find so no excuse not to try it.
Two Risottos by the King of Risotto - the Marabrea is out of focus because the two risottos are more important.

La Piazzetta - The King of Risotto and his wife.

Rainer Pils

Not to be confused with the Rainier beer of Washington state, which has Mt Rainier in it.  You would be surprised at the enormous number of Americans who can’t spell Rainier.  How do I know this?  Because searching for Rainer on Google throws up entry after entry of what is obviously Rainier beer, but badly spelled.

I said all that because I really can’t write anything nice about this beer.  It was in the closest restaurant to our boat in Roma.  The Affligem Red had run out (pity, I am a big fan of Affligem) and I was assured that the Heineken tap did not contain Heineken.  I should have known that Heineken would not allow one of their taps to be used for a competitor’s beer and sure enough, this Rainer is brewed by Heineken in France.  Tastes about as good as 1664 or perhaps not even as good as that.   A large glass of not much at all.  Waste of money.

Affligem Rouge.  (Affligem Double)

Yes, back in Bistrot and the Affligem has been restocked.  Nice red beer, not as in-your-face as stuff like the McFarland Red that Robbie and I had in Rome last night.*  A bit understated and subtle and very pleasant indeed.  Referred to as Affligem Double, not strictly as Affligem Red  (*not a criticism of McFarland Red, reviewed before.)

Alta Quota Principessa.

A Latium beer, artiginiale. #1 in their lists.   Quite nice if a little foamy.  Maybe the fact that it is about 110° in the waterbag has affected it.  Made with Spelt, not Malt (con Farro).  I liked this one a lot.

 Alta Quota Giovio

The red version.  A little sweet for me.  #5 of the Alta Quota offerings.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Scopelo, Palermo and Cefalu

After a week or so in the marina in Trapani, it was time for a sail and a nice quiet anchorage somewhere, so we headed east with the sails up and the motor at low revs. We tried out the pole, spreading the genoa full abeam to catch as much of the wind as we could – it worked well. The Sicilian coastline along here is spectacular: mountains and sheer cliffs that drop into vivid blue water, extraordinary rock formations, and nestled amongst all this, small villages, cultivated fields and deep green pine forests.
Genoa poled out, a nice sail

At about 14.30 we found a beautiful small bay near the town of Scopelo. In between almost vertical cliffs of golden limestone, an old tunny fishery had been transformed into an attractive small hotel, The water was crystal clear and I didn’t need much persuading to jump in to check that the anchor was set. Unfortunately it wasn’t visible, buried deep in long seagrass, but we seemed to be holding ok. We spent an idyllic afternoon, swimming and snorkelling around the bay which, unusually for the Med, was teeming with fish; reading, relaxing, enjoying a cold beverage or two. As the evening drew in, we became less confident about our holding and re-anchored further from the rocks. Then, as so often happens, a perfect daytime spot turns into a bit of a nightmare as the wind strengthens and changes direction and you get that rolly motion of wind against swell. Well, we got through the night, regularly checking our position, and were happy to be up and off early next morning.

Converted tunny fishery in Scopelo
A bit of weather seemed to be threatening and we needed a few supplies, so the obvious shelter within range was Palermo Harbour itself. We’d spent a week in Palermo previously, staying in a B&B, but visiting a place by water is always a different experience. It’s a busy harbour with many competing yacht clubs and marinas (each really just a pontoon with a sign) so we decided to head to the Agip fuel dock to top up our diesel and proceed from there. In the end we didn’t proceed far as the fuel dock runs an adjoining dock and they offered us a reasonable deal for three days. We were right next to the rowing club so morning coffee was taken on deck watching teams of extremely fit young people negotiating their craft between yachts, fishing boats, tour boats and various other obstacles. They would certainly take medals for a rowing steeplechase!
Crowded marina in Palermo

Rowers in the harbour
Most of our time in Palermo seemed to be spent shopping – or rather, wandering the narrow alleyways trying to track down slightly obscure items: a certain type of clip for the fenders, Hercules pegs (the big curved ones that don’t break or let stuff blow overboard), upholstery cleaner, beef stock cubes, Greek yoghurt, a flagstaff ...       We discovered some of the more ‘alternative’ parts of the dignified city we saw on the first visit, and it was fun using ‘un poco Italiano’, ‘a leetle English’, amusing mimes and Google to identify and purchase our things. Our local bar was the ‘Beachfront Bar’ – literally on the beach – dominated by a huge art installation resembling the prow of a ship which veered around with shifts in the wind. The bar, and indeed just about anywhere in Palermo, is a great place to watch the passing parade – Sicilian life seems to be played out with drama and high style, and very much in public!
On the way to the Beachfront Bar, sculpture in the background
Palermo graffiti

But now it was time to move on, a little further east before crossing to the Aeolian Islands. From the Cruising Guide, Cefalu looked like a promising spot, and it turned out to be very pleasant – we had no idea it was Sicily’s second most popular holiday destination, after Taormina. You can see why. The coast is ruggedly beautiful with ‘La Rocca’ towering over all (and guess what’s on top of the rock? Yep, a castle courtesy of our old friend Roger the Norman!
Cefalu from the water
Views on the walk to town
Temple of Diana, halfway up the 'hill'
Look closely - this is someone's back garden, overlooking the sea
Roger was here
It’s an old fishing village transforming itself into a tourist resort: relics of the past alongside restaurants and boutiques, but in a way that feels authentically Sicilian (ie a bit chaotic and haphazard but lively and interesting!)

The harbour is on one side of the promontory and the town on the other, so it is a bit of a walk, but there are awesome views of the sea below and the Aeolian Islands, not to mention ‘La Rocca” towering overhead. Terry managed to make it to the top, securing another Geocache for the collection, but I only got as far as the ancient Temple of Diana about halfway up. It is a beautiful, peaceful spot to rest, take in the views and commune with the old gods of the Med for a while. Swimming is a weird sensation here as cold fresh water flowing from mountain springs forms a top layer of about ten centimetres, while under that the water is salty and warm, perhaps even heated by volcanic activity.
We enjoyed a Last Supper in Sicily at a very nice restaurant /enoteca called  Trinacria (after the three-legged symbol of Sicily) watching the pink and gold sunset over the islands, before heading back to prepare ‘Common Sense‘ for the passage past the volcanic peaks of the Aeolians to the Italian mainland.