Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cefalù and our first Aeolian Islands

Cefalù is delightful. From the water you see all the resorts around it, but when you walk into the old town, most of the new development is hidden from view by the narrow streets. The buildings are stone, but the wooden shutters, doors and window frames are painted in bright colors. As we were walking down one little street we came upon a green grocer with a truck full of produce hawking his wares. Although we couldn’t understand a word, it was clear that the woman two stories up was negotiating with him from her balcony.

Old Cefalù with Norman cathedral

John found a barber in Cefalù who had time to cut his hair—his first haircut since Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, last summer. (He’s collecting exotic locations for his annual haircuts: Amsterdam, France, Sicily.) While he was doing that, I poked my head into some shops and found a Sicilian flag to run up under our Italian courtesy flag. We like to fly the regional flag in addition to the national one, especially when it’s an interesting one.

Sicilian flag

Next we went in search of a restaurant serving pasta con le sarde, a traditional Sicilian dish recommended to us by Andy on Spectacle. Palermo is where it’s really famous, but they do make it in Cefalù too. It’s pasta with sardines and fennel and raisins. We settled on a restaurant across the street from the beach, and I picked a pizza for a second plate. John liked the pasta con le sarde more than I did. There wasn’t enough sardine for me and a little too much fennel. What they called raisins weren’t like what we call raisins; I’m not sure what it was. The pizza was really good, though. It had sausage on it that turned out to be similar to what we call sweet Italian sausage.

We’ve been taking advantage of the settled weather and taking our time in the Aeolian Islands. Our first anchorage was at Isola Alicudi, the western-most island. There didn’t seem to be much going on there, and we didn’t go ashore. Yet, the ferries go there often, so there must be something.

Isola Alicudi

No cars allowed on Alicudi

As I write this, we’re anchored off the southwestern side of Isola Salina by the village of Rinella. We did put the dinghy in the water and go ashore to wander around and stop for a beer. There was a store selling beautiful ceramics. If I weren’t on a boat, I don’t think I could resist the temptation. Those bright primary colors really call to me.

Sunset from our anchorage at Salina

Mobile produce vendor at Salina

In a bit we’ll be putting the dinghy back on deck and heading to Stromboli. Stromboli has an active volcano, and the thing to do is to sail around it at night so that you can see the lava flows. When we get there, we’ll anchor until dark. After we see the volcano, we’ll just head back to Lipari, which is the next island over from where we are now. Lipari is the biggest of the islands and the most developed. We’ll do some provisioning there and then go to Vulcano, just south of Lipari to do the mandatory walk to the top of the crater.

We have changed our sailing plans again. From the Strait of Messina, we’ll turn left instead of continuing on around Sicily. A former colleague and fellow sailor, originally from Croatia, is returning there for a couple of months, and we’re going to meet up with him. There’s nothing like local knowledge to make cruising really special, so we’re looking forward to a couple of months in the Adriatic. Our friends on Islay Mist headed that direction already, and we hope to catch up with them too.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sicily so far

We left Ponza a week ago and have been mostly on the boat ever since. Yesterday we did go ashore at San Nicolo L’Arena—twice. The first time was to go shopping, and the second time was primarily because I wanted to get off the boat again although we bought a few more provisions too: wine and biscotti. We didn’t explore beyond the main street of the little town, and although we would have liked to go into Palermo, we decided against it because it would have meant another night in the marina.

It cost us 60€/night to moor, which included water, electricity and trash, but the restrooms and showers were locked, and we weren’t too impressed with the young guys running the place. As far as we could tell, we were the only visitors. The cruising guide says they have 45 guests slips, but I suspect they only have the one we were in. A sailboat with a courtesy flag was tied up on one side of the fuel dock, but it seemed to be a long-term situation because a power boat was rafted on the outside of it. When we first arrived on Sunday, a couple of days earlier, the place was totally packed, so we spent two windy nights anchored outside.

That makes our current anchorage our third in Sicily, all on the north coast. Our first was outside Castellammere del Golfo. We picked Castellammere as our first stop when we learned that the free mooring buoys at Trapani had been condemned. That is, the coast guard won’t let you stay there because they haven’t been inspected or maintained in six years. Maybe they would let you stay in calm weather, but big winds were in the forecast, and Trapani is windier than most places because it gets cape-effect winds. Better to find somewhere a bit more sheltered. Castellammere seemed to fit the bill as long as the winds were from the west, and it has a Greek ruin nearby that we thought we’d like to see.

Castellammare with old town wall in foreground

The beach we anchored off of at Castellammare

Unfortunately, although the wind was from the west, the swell was from the northwest. The cruising guide shows an anchorage inside the breakwater, but construction on the breakwater has that one off limits. Our anchorage well away from the protection of the jetty was pretty rolly. A couple of different boats came out from the marina as we arrived offering us a berth at 30€/night. (Wait, make that 25, but it’s the least possible.) In retrospect, we should have taken them up on it. I doubt we’ll see those rates again in the Med. We stayed for two nights, but didn’t go ashore because it would have been too hard to launch and retrieve the dinghy in the swell and chop. Then took advantage of a break in the gale warnings to move on to San Nicolo, where we planned to go into the marina, but as I mentioned earlier, it was full.

We did have a chance to sail using both sails and with the motor off for a couple of hours on our way to San Nicolo. That was pretty nice, and it was the first time that has happened for us in the Mediterranean.

Now we’re anchored at Cefalù. Several cruisers have told us this was their favorite anchorage in Sicily, and it is pretty nice. We’re sheltered from the worst of the swell by the harbor’s breakwater, and it’s very pretty. We plan to spend at least two nights here so that we can go into town, which boasts a twelfth century Norman cathedral. Otherwise, this is mostly a pretty resort.

Norman cathedral visible on our approach to Cefalù

Ruin atop a rock off our stern at Cefalù

From here we plan to head to the Aeolian Islands, a string of volcanic islands between Sicily and the mainland. The archipelago includes several active volcanoes, and our friends on Islay Mist say we shouldn’t miss out on the walk to the crater on Isola Vulcano. A night sail around Stromboli to see the lava flows is also mandatory, so we have a lot to see before we transit the Strait of Messina to get to the east side of Sicily.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ponza anchor dance

The Pontine Islands lie close off the west coast of Italy between Rome and Naples off Cape Circeo (named for Circe of Odyssey fame), and Ponza is the largest of these islands. I don’t think I’d ever even heard of it or them before, but Ponza looked like a good overnight stop between Rome and Sicily. Then an old friend (reconnected via Facebook) recommended several restaurants on Ponza, and other people started saying how great it was, so we decided to linger.

Our first anchorage was on the west side (sort of the back) of the island. When we started from Rome, the winds would have made this a great anchorage, and it was very pretty and impressive. But the winds shifted bringing swell into the anchorage soon after we dropped the hook. A guy in a Hallberg Rassey with a French flag was already moving around the anchorage, whether he was having problems getting it to set or was looking for a more comfortable spot, we don’t know, but it was a little annoying. Then two or three boats left. It was a little bumpy, but we were facing into the swell, so it was bearable if somewhat unpleasant. When we awoke the next morning, the Frenchman was gone, and so were most of the other boats. As Märzen and I did our morning routine, we watched more boats leave until when John joined us, we were the last boat but one, and it was getting ready to leave. Good idea.

We went around to the other side of the island, the side facing Italy, and found beautiful, flat water. Great! Rounding the point to our intended anchorage, we saw a commercial vessel filling the cove. Seriously. Its anchor was down, and it had multiple lines to shore. Oh well, the cruising guide said there were many possible anchorages on the east side of the island in settle weather, which we had, so we found a pretty one and dropped the hook.

It was really beautiful, and lots of Italians were out enjoying the beach and the weather, plus two British-flagged super yachts were anchored a bit off shore. Both super yachts had all their toys in the water, and one was even pulling a water skier with one of its tenders. John made a long-deferred minor repair to the dinghy, we put it in the water, and we piled in (even Märzen) to go exploring.

That was a really fun ride in our go-fast little boat. First, we checked out a passage at the tip of the island that we had watched a local sailboat negotiate while our chart said it had two rocks awash in the middle. One rock was sometimes visible, but the other was well hidden, and we admired the daring of that boat to attempt it. It wasn’t much farther to go around. The rock formations on this island are impressive, and we took the dinghy through a natural arch and a couple of narrow passages, just because we could. We also found tunnels in the rock near town and checked those out. Later we learned that they were part of the Roman water system to get water from the other side of the island (by our first anchorage) and redistribute it.

Rock arch that we took the dinghy through

Finally, we checked out the harbor at the town of Ponza to see where we could leave a dinghy to go ashore later. Nothing was obvious, so I decided we should ask one of the boats that was anchored in the harbor. None were obviously English-speak, but there was an Austrian boat, and I figured I could try German if they didn’t speak English. They didn’t, and I managed in German, but I didn’t really like the answer. Then we spotted a Dutch boat anchoring. Well, they didn’t know about the dinghy, but they said that winds were expected from the southeast, so we should probably come in because it would be more comfortable in the harbor.

OK. We did that, and it was very nice and very pretty—the first night. We took the dinghy ashore yesterday to find the restaurants we’d been told about and make reservations for dinner. We spotted all three, but only one was open to take our reservation. The family we had rescued the other day told us Acqua Pazza was the best, it was the one open, so that made our choice easy.

First night in Ponza harbor (lights are for a religious festival)

As we approached the dinghy where we’d left it locked, we saw some guys doing something to it. They put a big chain and lock on it! It turns out that it’s a private dock (not shown in the guide). They said we could leave the dinghy there for free if we only tied it so that they could move it as needed. Since we had locked it, that would be 20€ for an hour. John did a fine job of negotiating by saying 10€ and not budging. With yelling and expressions of disgust we escape our learning experience for 10€.

When we came back in the evening to go to dinner, a different guy was at that dock. First, it sounded like he wanted to charge us by the meter. (All of the discourse at this dock is in Italian with only a word or two of English on their side and the reverse on ours.) Then he said, no problem, just for dinner? Just give him a tip. How much we asked? No problem, he indicated, just some cigarettes. Big problem: we don’t have cigarettes. Go away then, he said and gestured. We looked around by the fishing boats where the Austrians and the earlier guy had said we could tie up, but there was no way to get the dinghy between the boats to tie up. They were really packed in there. I suppose we could have rafted to a fishing boat, but they’re all Med-moored end to end, and we can’t see how they even get off the boats, much less how we could. Finally we saw a dinghy leave a spot next to the first dock, so we went in there under constant surveillance from the dock guy, but he didn’t protest. That area seems to belong to the Winspeare Concert Café across the street, but they didn’t chase us off. Just to be safe, we went in and had a drink. It was a friendly place with reasonable prices, and I think we’ll go back tonight.

Fishing boat area of the harbor

Dinner at Acqua Pazza was very nice. Thanks, Mom! We learned at the music café that it’s very posh and during the high season royalty goes there. We had their tasting menu, which was quite unusual in that every course featured fish, except dessert, of course. I especially liked the swordfish tartar and tuna tartar. Not ocean friendly, but definitely local fish. The servings were quite large for a tasting menu, and we were stuffed by the time we left.

As we approached Solstice, we thought she was much closer to the Italian neighbor than she had been. They were all out in the cockpit looking, so we motored up. They asked if our anchor had moved, and we said no since they were in front of us, and if we had drug, there would be more distance between us, not less. Looking around we noticed that most boats had people on deck and that the wind was starting to pick up from the opposite direction of where it had been before.

Great. So much for the after dinner glow. We spent the next few hours watching boats drag and re-anchor and keeping a close watch in case we started to drag. Finally we did drag a little, but it was OK until it happened again. Then we leapt into action, got the anchor up, and started looking for another place to drop it. By then the wind was maintaining 20 knots and gusting into the 30s from the southwest. We decided our original anchorage on this side of the island would be sheltered, and it would be good not to have to worry about other boats dragging down on us.

I think that it’s scary moving at night, but we have instruments and radar, so we dodged some big boats and a poorly lit fish farm and made it back to our old anchorage, where the wind changed direction again making it a lee shore. And exposing it to wakes and swell. John let out all the chain in 14 feet of water over sand and stayed up until things settled down. He came to bed about 3 o’clock, and he can sleep until noon if he wants. Then we’ll talk about going back to the harbor because we want to go back to that café with the dinghy tie-up and maybe even check out another of the restaurants.

Solstice (in the distance with orange fender balls) in Ponza harbor

Since I’m posting this from our anchorage in Sicily near Castellamare, I can add that we did go back into the Ponza harbor so that we could return to the Winspeare Concert Café and also try another restaurant. We had excellent Spritzes and antipasto at the café and highly recommend it. The restaurant was OK, but we were the only customers, and the family that runs it watched our every move, so that was a bit weird.

Spritzes and antipasto at Winspeare Concert Café

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Arrivederci, Roma

Early tomorrow we leave Ostia for the very popular island of Ponza. The guide says that berth fees of 10€/meter are common in the high season (and that book is old), so we’ll be anchoring again, which we enjoy anyway. That means that we really do need to accomplish a few things on the boat today before we leave the dock, provisioning being just one.

We did make it to Ostia Antica and highly recommend it to anyone interested in ancient Roman ruins. It’s a huge archeological park along the banks of the Tiber. We spent hours wandering around and exploring the ruins. Ostia was a major Roman military and commercial port for centuries until the decline of Rome. Then the river changed course and old Ostia was flooded, abandoned and buried in silt. In the last few centuries many of the frescos and mosaics have been removed, but many still remain on the site and are being preserved there. Since it’s an active archeological site, not all of it is accessible to the public.

Kids and ancient toilet humor in Ostia Antica

From Ostia Antica we continued on into Rome to visit the National Roman Museum. The museum is housed at multiple locations, but we only visited the Palazzo Massimo. There we were pleased to find many objects identified as coming from Ostia. Museum tickets are valid for two or three days so that you can visit the other locations too, but we ran out of time.

Thursday was our Catholic day. We started at the Vatican Museums and could have spent days there. It’s by far the largest museum I’ve ever been in (no, I haven’t been to the Louvre). I’d expected to find only religious art there, and there was indeed a lot of that, but they also maintain large Egyptian and Etruscan collections. We got a late start on the day and found ourselves hurrying a bit by the time we got to the Raphael rooms, but we slowed to admire the mosaic floors from Ostia. The rooms of modern art were mostly empty as the tours were headed straight to the Sistine Chapel at that point. We detoured through them and were pleased to find a couple of works by Dali, as well as one of Francis Bacon’s popes.

A tour at the Vatican Museums

A work by Dali away from the tours

We found the museums a little confusing and weren’t always sure where we were. There wasn’t a lot of context for most of the art although I can imagine taking a week to listen to everything on the audio guide. The map they give you with the audio guide is just an abstract representation, and all signs lead to the Sistine Chapel. After that, you’re pretty much on your own, and the audio guide is also silent beyond that point. It would be great if that museum ticket were valid for multiple days too, but there’s an extra charge for everything at the Vatican. Even the water in the restrooms is non-potable, and there are no drinking fountains here, unlike the rest of Rome.

Our rush at the museums was so that we could get to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica before closing. Once there, though, we found it blocked off so they could set up for some event. We asked a visiting priest about it, but there was a language barrier, and all we got was that the pope would be there for something that evening. We could see the square, though, and can imagine how impressive it is to be in it. (We learned yesterday from some other priests on the Metro that it was the end of the year of the priest and that it wasn’t normal to see as many priests as we had been noticing. There were 25,000 extra priests in the city for the event. This wasn’t, however, the event where the pope apologized for allowing priests to abuse children. That was the next day.)

From St. Peter’s we walked back across the river to find a restaurant that a friend had recommended. Our timing was bad, though, and we were there during the couple of hours when it wasn’t open, so we continued on to see other sights on our list. On our way to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, we spotted a hole-in-the-way pizzeria (Pizzeria “da Pasquale” at Via dei Prefetti 34/a) and stopped in. It turned out to be just what we had hoped to find: a spot where locals drop in to get a slice on their way home. The white pizza with mushrooms and artichokes was excellent, and we had pizza and drinks for 10€ total rather than the 10€ (or more) each at the tourist places.

Bridge over the Tiber

We didn’t find Piazza Navona, but we did visit the Pantheon. Amazingly, entry is free. It was getting late by then, so we didn’t linger, but it did give me the idea of how awe-inspiring those ancient temples were.

Pantheon, pagan temple repurposed by the Church

Between the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s, we stopped at a phone store and bought a USB modem. Wireless Internet here in Italy has been hard to come by, and this is the solution many cruisers find to the problem. We’ll be able to use it in other countries by replacing the SIM card and buying more time. Unfortunately, the language barrier caused some problems, and we had to go back to the city yesterday to get the modem working properly. Since there was a rail strike going on, reducing the service on the train and Metro, that turned out to be an all-day adventure, and we didn’t make it back to the marina in time to check out to leave today at the end of our week.

The good part of staying an extra day (aside from getting our chores done) is that we finally saw the people on the other boat from California (from Clovis near Fresno). We spotted the boat when we came in, but it’s on another dock, and we couldn’t get over there to knock on the boat and introduce ourselves. Jack and Daphne were out in the cockpit yesterday evening, though, so I yelled over and they let me in, and we all met for coffee this morning. They’re circumnavigating and spent the winter here. Now they’re lingering to replace their engine before they continue on. They had lots of stories to tell about their adventures in the seven years they’ve been out and were interested in our thoughts about northern Europe. In the small world department, it turns out that they kept their boat at Emery Cove (San Francisco Bay) when we had Resolution (our previous boat) there. They were one dock over and noticed her since their boat is named Resolute. Funny to meet on a dock near Rome.

Later: Our jobs are done, and we've turned in our gate key for the return of our deposit. Unfortunately, right after we did that, we heard that the U.S. vs. England game is on at the bar on shore. Oh well. I'll trust that our Facebook peeps will have the result for us later. Meanwhile, GO USA!!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Our Roman holiday

It does feel like a vacation because we’re doing the tourist thing. That’s pretty rare for us. We’ve decided to stay here in Ostia for a whole week, and we’re not sure if we’ll manage the boat chores we have on the list because we’re too busy playing. The commute to the city and back also takes a big chunk of each day, and getting Internet is time-consuming, too.

Although they have wireless Internet in the marina, the service uses PayPal to handle payment, and PayPal keeps putting fraud alerts on John’s account (due to the international travel, we assume). In the past, that’s been painful, but John has been able to work through it. This time they want to talk to him at our home number. Well, we use my mom’s number for our home number for banks and credit cards, so that’s a bit of a problem. John tried to give them our Spanish cell phone number, but the form wouldn’t allow the international number (wrong format, different number of numbers, or something). He tried to file a trouble report with PayPal, but without Internet couldn’t figure out how to do it. I tried to complain to the wireless vendor, but I couldn’t do that without an Italian address and phone number. Bottom line: we don’t have Internet and we’re hating PayPal.

Enough grousing. On to the good bits. Our first day here we rested a bit and then went into the city later in the afternoon—partly as a trial run on the bus-train-subway and partly because we couldn’t wait. We discovered that it’s much farther than we thought. Since it only costs one euro to get there, we thought it was close. Unlike San Francisco, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, other cities with which we’re familiar, there’s no distance charge. The single euro covers everything within the Roman transportation system. There is a time limit of 75 minutes, and that’s about how long it takes us to get anywhere in the city from here. We bought week tickets for unlimited travel for €16 each, so transportation is cheap.

Our meal that first night was also reasonably priced at less than €50 for the two of us including antipasto, main dish, dessert and wine. It was also quite tasty. John had the osso buco and I had saltimbocca, both Roman style, and we shared a mixed antipasto and tiramisu. It was delicious! If that was just an ordinary tourist restaurant, which it seemed to be, the Romans definitely eat well.

The next day we found the Internet café here in the marina in the morning and went back to the city in the afternoon. We decided to start our sightseeing with the Colosseum. As we were headed to the entrance, we were hustled to buy a tour package including the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum. Since the entrance fees alone, before audio tour, were €12 each and the tour was €18 and could be spread over two days (although they prefer you to do it in one), we decided to go for it. Our group at the Colosseum was mostly Americans, and we were a little uneasy since we got neither a ticket nor a receipt for the fees, so we asked someone else about it. They said they’d been told it was common and legitimate, so we shrugged and hoped for the best. We had to meet Fez (the hustler) at noon the next day to get set up for the second part of the tour.

The Colosseum is pretty indescribable. Either you’ve seen it, or you really can’t imagine it. It’s both bigger and smaller than it seems in the movies and on TV. The outside and the structure itself feel massive. The floor of the arena seems relatively small. It’s hard to picture chariot races occurring there, although I suppose they could, but there’s plenty of room for gladiators to fight wild animals and each other. Did you know that our word arena comes from the Latin for sand? At least, that’s what our guide said. I was surprised that it was mostly brick (although I suppose I should have known that) and that it had been covered with concrete, which I had thought was a more modern material. (I also learned that it’s the Colosseum, not Coliseum, and I’ve passed that on to MS Word’s spell-checker.) We were glad we split the tour since when it was time for the group to assemble for the second part, we weren’t finished exploring the Colosseum on our own.

John at the Colosseum

Yesterday we left the boat at 10 a.m. to be sure to be on time for our appointment with Fez and the second part of the tour. Since we managed to complete the commute in just over an hour, we were early and decided to go for coffee and a pastry. The only place at the Colosseum entry level was at the metro stop itself, and it seemed expensive for the bus station kind of fare it was, so we went up a level to a café called Squisito-Cook. The guys there were nice, and a customer helped them with their English, so we had two medium-sized cappuccinos, a palmier (for me) and a chocolate croissant (for John). The cappuccinos were actually pretty big, and the pastries were very good, and we speculated about how much it would cost since the prices weren’t posted and we’d forgotten to ask. Eight to 12 euros we guessed, thinking that 12 was high. Ah, no. We forgot to add in the view of the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, which brought the total to €20! That’s the most expensive coffee and donut we’ve ever had.

Back at the entrance to the Colosseum we learned that Fez wouldn’t be there that day. That had us concerned, but no worries: Mike from Scotland remembered us and set us up with a guide (Elaine, a blond from Canada and Scotland) who had a tour group meeting soon. Never mind that it was a different company. Apparently the hustlers and guides cooperate a bit whether management likes it or not. That’s very nice for the tourists.

Elaine was a terrific guide (she’s with Romaround Tours; ask for the blond Canadian woman), and we’re very glad we got her tour. She was full of stories as she led us up and over the hill. She was so good, in fact, that we were considering joining her today for her St. Peters and Sistine Chapel tour. The price of €45 each for a three-hour tour of places that our guide book (purchased at the Colosseum bookstore) says cost just €14 to enter was too steep, though. We spent another couple of hours wandering around the Palatine Hill, visiting the museum, and poking around the Forum until we decided walk past the Vittoriano to see Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps before we caught the metro to start the journey back to the boat.

Emperor’s private arena

Forum looking toward Palatine Hill

The fountain and steps were crowded—very crowded—and it was hot, so we didn’t linger. We did make a stop at Gelateria San Crispino (Via della Panetteria, 42), which many (including our guide book) say has the best ice cream in Rome. We certainly wouldn’t argue with that assessment although I plan to keep checking. I was disappointed that the Spanish Steps weren’t lined with flowers as in the photo in the book, but that was three more must-see places that we could check off the list. It was only 4 o’clock, but we decided we should make an early day of it since we needed to visit the grocery store on the way home, so we headed for the Metro.

Shirlee in front of Trevi Fountain

The Spanish Steps sans flowers with tourists

This was Metro A, and we needed Metro B to get to the Lido train, but I knew where to transfer (Termini), so no problem. Standing room only in the Metro, but only two or three stops to the transfer. Why aren’t the doors closing? After what seemed a long time, but was probably only a few minutes, there was an announcement. I caught something about technical problem, but no one was abandoning the car. I asked the young man with longish hair and a guitar case if he could tell us what they’d said. I had guessed right and asked if they said how long the delay would be. They hadn’t. After a few more minutes, the musician left to take the bus, and I asked but he couldn’t tell us which bus would get us to the other Metro. (Transportation maps rarely include buses when there are trams and subways.) Then there was another announcement, and everyone started leaving. We sat for a moment in another car before a nice man told us that the delay was indefinite and we should get a bus. He didn’t know which bus either.

Figuring the buses would be jammed at the Piazza di Spagna, we took the exit less traveled to the Villa Borghese (a fourth place to check off). We still didn’t know which bus, but when we exited the Villa Borghese on Via Veneto, I knew the general direction and we caught a bus going downhill. Lucky for us, a fare-checker boarded the bus too, and we asked her for advice.

Lots of buses stop at the Piazza Barberini, where the fare-checker had told us to catch the 492. Comparing the listed stops of the various offerings with the names of the Metro stops on my map, I thought the 175 would be a better option. Wow! I haven’t seen a bus so jammed full since Moldova. They were actually pushing people into the bus in order to get the doors closed. While we awaited the next 175, the crowd at the bus stop didn’t seem to be shrinking, so I revisited the signs and the map until we decided to get on the next bus that looked like it had any room at all. The buses were all coming from upstream of the subway problem and were pretty full when they got to us. Finally, we squeezed onto one, and some more people shoved their way in after us until you didn’t need to hang on to something because the crowd would hold you up anyway. John asked a woman in business attire if it was always like this, and she said, yes, it was normal. I told her that I thought Rome was beautiful anyway.

Begging a ride on an overly full bus

It was closer to 9 than to 8 o’clock when we got home (poor puppy), and almost all of that time we were standing. The metros, trains, and buses were all standing-room-only. So we’re taking it easy today. Headed to the Internet café where I can post this and then maybe to Ostia Antica, a well-preserved Roman town that our guide Elaine recommended as an uncrowded, shady alternative to a long trip to Pompeii. The Christian sights in Rome can wait another day for us.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rendezvous with Islay Mist

We met up with our friends from the Shetland Islands on Tuesday at the anchorage behind Isola di Porri. The wind was against us, so it was slow going the last 15 miles to reach the Tulloch family on Islay Mist (which we learned is pronounced "eye lay" not "is lay"), but they were a bit surprised to see us so early in the afternoon. The anchorage was beautiful but still windy when we arrived, so John put out two anchors in a series as we've done before. It gives a nice, secure feeling, and Islay Mist had two anchors out too.

It was fun catching up with the adventures of Ali, Linda and their little girls, Alisha and Kayly (whose names I've no doubt misspelled, sorry). They spent the winter in Barcelona and then went along the coast of France and northern Italy before cutting across to Elbe, Corsica and down to Sardinia. The girls were disappointed that Marzen didn't want to play with them, but we tried to make up for it with sweets. Now Islay Mist is headed to Sicily with more stops in Sardinia, and we're headed to Rome. It looks good for meeting up again somewhere in Sicily in a week or so.

Our anchorage was pretty far from a town, but we took the super dinghy into Aranci to do a little provisioning, just to be sure that we have enough food for our overnight passage. It's a cute little fishing town only lightly touched by tourism. There we tried our first authentic focaccia and were surprised to find it crispy. They also sell a thicker, more bread like version, but we liked the crispy a lot and bought more on our way out of town. We're looking forward to Rome and more tasty Italian treats.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Anchored inside jetties at San Teodoro

We finally left Arbatax this morning after three nights. Although we had completed our run back to Cagliari for our mail, toured the surrounding countryside, and planned to move on yesterday, a weather system with big winds and rough seas was forecast, so we decided it would be prudent to stay put. Keeping us company at the dock was a Canadian boat, Whitestar, with Steve and Deirdre aboard.

I don't have a record of what I've already written about Arbatax, so please forgive me if I'm repeating myself. We went into the marina there just so that we could leave the boat and rent a car to drive back to Cagliari and pick up our mail, which arrived five minutes after we left the dock at Marina di Sant' Elmo. It was a bit lucky that it worked out this way because we wouldn't have met Steve and Deirdre or seen any of the interior of the island otherwise. The detour and weather have made us late for our meet-up with Islay Mist, though, so I hope they're waiting for us. I don't think they get email when they don't have Internet, but last I heard, they were in no hurry.

For those following in our wake, I highly recommend the marina at Arbatax. They let us tie up alongside because we only planned to spend one night. Then they didn't ask us to move when we lingered. As a result, Marzen got to go for walks on shore. They have a cafe right at the marina, and town is only a short walk away. A bus runs every hour to Tortoli, where there are bigger supermarkets and car rental companies. The marina also has Wi-Fi, but the weekend staff wasn't able to hook us up with it, and we didn't find out until we left that it was only slightly more expensive than the cafe in town. We only paid 14 euros a night for our 12.5 meter boat, so we were very pleased with the marina rates. They include electricity and water-- although you have to make special arrangements for potable water--restrooms and showers. Besides Wi-Fi, they have a very nice laundry room with multiple washers and dryers.

Renting a car for one day on a Saturday was a bit of a challenge. We started at Avis Tortoli because the bus driver knew where they were. There we would have had to keep the car for two days because they weren't open on Sunday. As we were confirming this and expressing our disappointment, I looked across the street and spotted another business that advertised cars for rent, so we went to check them out. We might speak more words of Italian than they do of English, but the people at Autonoleggio Fisichella S. were terrific. It's located in a boutique that sells beach clothes and fishing supplies. The woman we first spoke with speaks Italian, Sard, Spanish, and French. Somehow we communicated. The daily rate is a little higher than Avis, but they would come on Sunday so that we could return the car--just for us, she said. Not only that, the man who brought the car said he would drive us back to the marina on Sunday (I don't think the buses run then). All in all, it was a great experience that left us feeling very good about the people of Sardinia.

The weather we waited out yesterday was something new in our experience. The wind blew 30 knots for awhile, kicked up the waves so that our neighbors on the dock were checking our dock lines, and then died off. Awhile later it started up again. The cycle must have repeated four or more times before it was over. It made us very glad that we stayed put.

Where we're anchored now is a future marina. They've built the jetties, but there aren't any docks yet. The wind today was the opposite of the forecast (east-southeast rather than west-northwest, so we tucked in here rather than the anchorage we had planned. Tomorrow we'll get up early and go find Islay Mist. They should be less than 20 miles away now.

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