5, 2011 – Siracusa, Sicily
45th Birthday, Marc!” When we lived in Chicago, we always celebrated Marc’s birthday
with a sail and usually pizza, his favorite things in the world. Well this year was not much different,
other than the fact that we were sailing from Croatia to Sicily instead of Lake Michigan and when we arrived in Sicily on
the 5th we had our first Italian pizza to celebrate with Stu and Sandy from Heartsong.
We left Croatia on August 2nd
with only one mission to reach Italy somewhere and to sail as long as we had good winds. It’s rare
that we don’t have a definite destination when we set off on a passage but with all of the horrible sailing that we’ve
had in the Med, we just wanted to sail and make some miles. So when we left, we weren’t sure if we
would have a one, two, or three night passage depending on the conditions. Well, as it turned the weather
cooperated most of the way and we sailed much of the 400 miles and three nights to Siracusa, Sicily.
In order to reach Siracusa in daylight,
we stopped for a few hours off the southern coast of Italy at a beach near Porto Ionica to celebrate Marc’s BDay.
We had fun swimming, napping (for Marc and I), BBQ ing, making Dad’s BDay cake (the kids did it all while I was
sleeping), and chilling out. After the nice rest and celebration, we took off again. We
had a few hours of choppy swells but most of the night was uneventful and we arrived in Sicily at daybreak.
So far, we’re enjoying Sicily and the
pizza is great! Although, Grant still isn’t convinced that it is as good as Chicago pizza.
Maybe we’ll have to sample some more…..
15, 2011 – Procida Island, Italy
just left the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily. Although very busy with Italian tourists, we have
thoroughly enjoyed the last ten days in Sicily. August is vacation month in Italy and since the Aeolians
and Sicily are the vacation spots for Italians, the anchorages have been crazy, crowded, and rolly but the sights have been
exploring Siracusa, we went up the east coast of Sicily to the glitzy tourist town of Taormina. Set high
in the cliffs, it was a beautiful city from the water. As we entered the anchorage area, a man came by
us in a nice motor to ask us if we wanted to use his moorings. He very politely told us that they were
50 Euros per night. Crazy, considering we could anchor a few feet away for free. But
what was amazing is that people actually used them…yikes. We hiked up the mountain to the
beautiful old city and enjoyed window shopping and more Sicilian pizza.
Grant and Marc had the big adventure during our time
in Taormina as they hiked to a castle at the very, very top peak in the area. They hiked about 9 miles
that day (with half of it uphill). Although the castle, wasn’t much the views and the conversation
were great and we were all proud of them. Although we enjoyed Taormina, the anchorage was so rolly that
we actually felt like we were on a passage one night so we were ready to get moving up to the Aeolians.
After Taormina, we sailed (OK, motored)
through the Straits of Messina that separates Sicily and Italy. We had read and heard about some really
nasty passages through here with strong counter currents and choppy seas, so needless to say, I was not looking forward to
it. Despite fighting a head wind (as always in the Med), we had a fairly uneventful and comfortable ride.
The kids even did some school. It was a long 70 mile day but we made it to the island of Vulcano
in the Aeolians before dinner and snuggled into the anchorage with hundreds of other boats.
After another rolly night, we woke up
and hiked Fossa di Vulcano (391 m), the crater that gives the island its name. The 90 minutes hike, was
well worth the effort with great views of the area and interesting volcanic landscape with rising steam and sumptuous crystals,
although, the rotten egg smell was not very enjoyable.
After spending two more rolly nights anchored in the Aeolians, we were ready
to press on toward Rome. But first, we had to enjoy one more Volcano on the island of Stromboli. This is time, we didn’t hike the volcano,
we simply sailed by at night and enjoyed the show. What a show it was! An active volcano,
Stromboli has been known as the oldest lighthouse in the Med since its volcanic eruptions have been guiding sailors to and
from the Messina Straits for centuries. Instead of taking the 8 hour hike to the top, we decided
to enjoy the views from the comforts of Imagine. We timed our arrival right at dark and enjoyed a show
better than fireworks. Every 15 – 20 minutes we’d see the bright red lava shoot up in the air
and then slide down the mountainous slope. What a site!
Now we are hanging out for a couple of days, at another
very busy island off the coast of Italy, Procida. The good news here, is that it is a day trip from
Naples so although the anchorages are crowded and rough during the day from boat traffic, the nights are calm and enjoyable.
Our next stop is Rome!!! We have been looking forward to this stop for awhile and we are all very excited.
2011 – Fiumicino, Italy (Near Rome)
a quick stop at the pretty island of Procida, we arrived at the Fiumicino River, outside of Rome, at 6:00 AM on August 17th.
We were all very excited to start exploring mainland Italy, especially Mom and Dad. We learned on
noonsite (a cruiser website) about a dock on the river where you can tie up for 15 Euros a night which is quite a bargain
considering the marinas are 100+ Euros. Nothing fancy, it’s more of a boatyard than a marina on a
fairly dirty river but the man who works here is friendly and helpful, it’s a convenient bus/train
trip into Rome, and it’s the right price so who needs fancy.
We spent the afternoon catching up on some sleep
and figuring out the bus/train schedule and the next day we were off taking in the sights. As we walked
up the steps exiting the Colosso subway stop, we were all blown away by the immense, ancient Coliseum standing right in front
of us. Truly, the coolest subway station, I have ever seen. As I stared at the LONG
lines to enter the coliseum, I remembered that I had read in Lonely Planet that the Coliseum tickets include the Palatine
and Forum and if you buy them first at the Palatine, you get to skip the line to the Coli. So off we went
and stood in a 10 minute line instead of 90 minutes….gotta love Lonely Planet.
We spent the first couple of hours exploring
the Forum and Palatine. The Roman Forum which was first developed in the 7th century BC grew
over the course of 900 years to become the heart of the Roman Republic. Although all of the temples, arches,
columns, and structures were amazing, the most exciting was the small Tempio di Giulio which was the sight of Julius Cesar’s
death. The kids had already learned of the betrayal of Brutus in history class but now it’s a little
it was on to the Granddaddy of ancient sites, the massive Roman Coliseum. Inaugurated in AD 80, the quintessential
monument to the great Roman power, this is where the gladiators fought to the death and condemned prisoners fought off hungry
tigers. Able to seat 50,000+ spectators, the sheer size of the Coliseum is impressive. But
just as impressive is how well it has been preserved for the last 2000 years. You can really feel the history,
as you stand there looking out over the floor, cages, and passageways. Although thoroughly impressed with
the structure, as we read the stories of the deadly games including up to 9000 gladiators and 10,000 animals, we were all
a little sickened by the whole thing. As the kids asked, “How could people watch this, Mom?”
I had to admit that I wondered the same thing. But despite the bloody history, you can not help
but be in awe.
next stop on Ancient Rome tour was the Panthenon. Although the Panthenon is almost 2000 years old, it is
probably the best preserved building that we have seen. Originally a Roman meeting place dedicated to the
classical gods, it has been a church since 608 AD and still hosts mass on special occasions. Although home
to the tombs of two Italian kings and the artist Raphael, the real highlight to the building is the perfect semi-sphere dome
which is still to this day the largest masonry dome ever built.
After hitting the big ancient sites, we enjoyed walking the streets and the piazzas (neighborhood squares). Everywhere
you look, you see some sort of ancient ruin, sculpture by a famous artist, elaborate fountain, or huge ornate church.
After a VERY hot day, we loved splashing ourselves in Trevi Fountain which is one of the many, many
fountains for the public to dip their hands and cool off. The kids love the abundance
of old water fountains that continuously pump out cold, clean drinking water to fill your water bottles. What
a great way to beat the heat, that and the many gelato shops.
Exhausted after a couple of big days of exploring the ancient sites of Rome, we are back on Imagine getting ready
for movie. Guess what the boys picked??????? GLADIATOR!
2011 – Fiumicino, Italy (near Rome)
Well you can’t go to Rome and not visit the smallest country in the world and the seat to the Roman Catholic
Church. As Catholics we (especially Mom) were so excited to visit the Holy See. Although
the pre-purchased tickets allowed us to skip the lines that wrapped around the block, they did not allow us to escape the
crowds inside the vast Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. When we booked the tickets we didn’t think
about the fact that it may be a “little” busier on a Saturday – big mistake. Next to
the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Thursday, the Sistine Chapel was the most crowded site that we have
visited. A good sign for the church!
The best adjective to describe the Vatican Museums is “overwhelming”.
At almost 14 acres, from the ancient Egyptian room, to Roman statues, to the masters of Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci,
there is absolutely no way to see it all. Of course, this is especially true with three kids along.
But the Museum had a great family audio tour that was set up like a scavenger hunt and despite the crowds we were able
to see much and enjoy ourselves. At the end of the museum, we and hundreds of our closest friends were
lead into the Sistine Chapel. Although the crowds made the experience less than personal, the vision of
Michelangelo’s masterpiece was still incredible. Although hungry and tired, the
kids were even appropriately impressed.
Noah was STARVING so the next mission for our Vatican day was to find food. We found a typical
little Italian restaurant on the way to St. Peter’s square with a large Italian woman talking quickly and loudly to
us in Italian telling us about her specials. We didn’t know quite what we were getting or what we
were paying but “what the heck….when in Rome”. We ended up having a great meal and more
importantly a fun experience.
Next stop was St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, the second largest church in the world (the largest is in Africa
– believe it or not). One wonderful thing about Rome is that the churches, which are more like museums,
are free, even the massive and beautiful St. Peter’s Basilica. In order to enter, we just waited
in line for about 20 minutes and dressed appropriately. We did decide to spend the extra 5 euros to climb
to the top of Michelangelo’s 119 meter dome that towers over the church. The climb to the top was
quite the narrow experience on a narrow, steep, winding staircase but the views from the dome on the inside of the basilica
and the outside of the square were absolutely incredible.
The Basilica itself was just amazing. At almost 620 feet
long, it can hold up to 60,000 people and incredible artwork made by Michelangelo, Bernini, Raphael, and many others that
this art novice didn’t recognize. We felt honored and a little sad to see the tomb of Pope
John Paul II. Since his beatification, his tomb was moved from the grottos to the main floor and sits in
a place of honor. Along with the rest of Italy, Pope Benedict was on vacation and at his summer home so
we were unable to see him during our visit.
(For more info on Michelango’s Sistine Chapel, David, and St. Peter’s
Dome check out Caroline’s Blog)
August 27, 2011 – Fiumicino, Italy
ROADTRIP to Tuscany!!!!!!
had a blast on our road trip to Pisa, Florence, and Chianti. Our friends from the boat Mehari arrived in
Fiumicino just in time to join us on our whirlwind tour of Tuscany. We rented a car and they rented a van
and ALL 13 of us – yes 13 “did” Italy.
made our way up the coast of Italy to Pisa. We checked into our cheap hostel and although it didn’t
have AC, it was only 10 euros per person which fit into our cruiser budget well. Of course, the first order
or business was to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were quite a site as we ALL walked the streets
of Pisa. The first one of us to see the tower was Noah and my quiet child screamed at the top of his lungs,
“Wow!!!!! It is really leaning!!!” At 13.5 feet off of perpendicular, Noah was right and I have to agree that it leans much more than I ever expected.
It’s amazing that it is still standing after hundreds of years.
The Leaning Tower, along with the Cathedral and Bapistry,
stand in the Piazza del Miracoli which is known to be one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. As with
most things, the best things are simple and free and we all loved just hanging out, playing in the large grassy area of the
square. The kids built pyramids, played tag, and turned cartwheels as the parents relaxed and chatted.
Of course, we had to end a near perfect day with Pizza in Pisa. Good food and good company!
OK, I might have spoken a little too
soon on the perfect day, as we still had to spend the night in the hostel. What we didn’t quite realize
is it gets VERY hot in Pisa in August and on the top floor of a hostel in the city, there was no air flow. We
also quickly realized that being close to the train may be great for the 20 yr old backpackers but it is also LOUD.
Needless to say, no one slept much and Marc was so hot that he woke up twice in the middle of the night to shower.
So maybe it wasn’t such a good deal!
After our very tiring night, we hopped in the cars and started the 2 hour drive to Florence. On
the way, we lucked out and saw the signs for Vinci, Italy, home of Leonardo so we had to detour. We were
so glad that we did. Vinci was a quaint Tuscan town with a large castle that held the museum for Leonardo
da Vinci’s inventions. Although we all know of Leonardo as a painter, his inventions were way ahead
of his time and it was fun seeing them – science field trip. (For more
info on Leonardo da Vinci check out Grant’s blog)
we made it to Florence, home to the David, possibly the world’s most famous statue. Again, it was
a big Wow! Michelangelo’s famous, David, once stood outside in the Piazza della Signoria but is now
protected at the end of the Great Hall inside the Galleria dell’Accademia. I have to say that to
me, it is definitely worth all of the hype and the fact that Michelangelo created it at the age of 29 is quite spectacular.
stop, on the Tuscan tour was Chianti. After the “not so perfect” experience at the hostel in
Pisa we opted to increase our per person rate to 15 Euros (big spenders) and to stay in the cool of the country. We stayed
at the Hostel del Chianti and although not fancy, it was perfect for us with ping pong, outside play area, clean, and quiet.
After cruising for three years we are certainly not picky.
We loved driving through the Chianti area. Although with 9 kids between the two families we knew
we wouldn’t be spending our day wine tasting but we had to go to at least one vineyard. Casa Emma
Winery was the perfect spot for a little picnic for the families after a little wine tasting. We were even
able to buy a couple of bottles of nice, inexpensive chianti. What’s the best treat after a picnic,
ICE CREAM! The manager of the hostel recommend and a Gelateria in Castillino del Chianti and said that
it was the best ice cream in the area. After a very scientific evaluation from all of us, we decided that
it may have been the best ice cream that we have ever eaten. Considering that we have been eaten around
the world for the last 3 years, this is a huge compliment.
We had one more stop on our whirlwind tour of Tuscany and that was to see
the famed tours of San Gimignano. As you arrive in San Gimignano, you immediately start to see the towers
that leads to the fame of this medieval village. At one time the towers numbered 72 and they were built
as symbols of power by the city’s wealthy families. Each family built there tower, taller and taller,
attempting to “one up” their neighbors. This continued through the 13th century
until one town chief forbid the building of towers greater than his own at 51m. Now, that’s keeping
up with the Joneses.
had fabulous road trip to Tuscany but as on all vacations, we were excited to get back to our own beds on Imagine.
August 30, 2011
– Fiumicino, Italy
our last trip into Rome and are now ready to leave this wonderful country. We had an early BDay celebration
for Grant with his friends on Mehari and enjoyed one last Italian pizza and gelato. Yum.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our time
in Italy and especially our time in Rome and Tuscany. Being from Chicago, we just love cities and Rome
has taken a special place in my heart as one of my favorites. With its charming little neighborhood squares,
ancient structures everywhere, and massive, intricate churches integrated perfectly into a modern city, I couldn’t help
but be captivated. We also loved the food! Being from Chicago, we are also experts on
pizza and we loved the Italian pizza. It was much simpler and lighter than our stuffed and deep dish pizzas
from home but it had a perfect, fresh taste and at an average of 6 euro a pizza we ate it A LOT.
Lastly, for all of the cruisers reading
our blog, we would definitely recommend Cantiere Nabula boatyard as a perfect place to leave your boat to explore Italy.
Only a 45 minutes and 3 euro bus and train trip to downtown Rome, it is perfectly situated and at 15 euro a night for
the dock, you can not beat it. It is absolutely nothing fancy but the owners are helpful and friendly and
it is all you need.
So now it is Ciao to Italy and Ola to Spain as we make the 350 mile passage to the Balearic islands.