Sunday, 27 September 2009

Exploring the Mafia's Homeland - Sicily ..... Sept 2009

15 - 25 September 2009

***It's rather chilly up here on Mt Etna, you can just see the steam coming out in front of the clouds***This used to be a refuge, as you can see it's been buried nearly to the top of the windows*** Back down to warmer weather, self timer shot in Noto***This seems to be the symbol of Sicily, Marks interpretation is that this is what you end up looking like - many broken arms and legs - if you mess with the Mafia!!*** Checking out all the goodies at Siracusa's excellent morning market***

After such an action packed trip getting to Sicily we were keen just to take it easy for a few days and explore. It was also good to get off the boat, there was still quite a swell coming into the anchorage so it was rolly most of the time, a good reason to get out and go sightseeing.

But first things first. After having had our 'dongle' for 2 weeks and still not being able to use it, it was time to find a WIND shop and sort it out. Now for those of you as unfamiliar with a dongle as we were, it is a USB stick that plugs into our laptop, you buy a Data Sim Card for it, put money on it like a prepay cellphone sim card, and presto - uninterrupted Internet access onboard. The cruisers dream!!! Well that is how it is supposed to work. However doing this in Italy and therefore in Italian was not as straightforward as it all sounds above. Now you could certainly blame that on our total lack of Italian language skills but in fairness to us it wasn't all our fault and we think the chap in the 'dongle' shop in Brindisi made several easy euros out of us. So we tracked down the simcard provider WIND's shop in Siracusa and again with no common language handed over yet more euros and after waiting 24hours for it to be processed we are at last in working order, yippee. Communications while cruising, now that's another blog subject I'll work on over winter!!!

So back to touring. We shared a car for the weekend (to get a cheaper off-peak rate) withDestiny and were up early on Saturday morning, we had a big day planned - heading to Mt Etna. Mt Etna is famous for many things - yes I had been reading the Lonely Planet in preparation for our outing - it is visible from the moon, it's Europe's largest volcano and one of the worlds most active. While we wanted to see it in action, we sincerely hoped that this wouldnt be the day to put it back in the news with a big blast!

We headed north out of Siracusa, the coastline was very built up, quite industrial and not particularly attractive. No wonder we had seen such a sea of lights on our nightmare (I'm sure I typed in nighttime!!!) journey sailing down the coast, it was wall to wall buildings. We started climbing, our little Fiat Panda managing well . Etna sits proudly alone, big, bold and black rising to its steamy peak, 3350m above sea level. There is little vegetation, each eruption finds a new path down the side, wiping out all in its way and leaving a highway of black lava to remind us of its powers. We drove as far as Refugio Sapienza (1923m) this is the end of the road, from here you can either hike up or catch the chair lift. The noticeable drop in temperature at this altitude saw us quickly adding layers of warm clothing. Having limited time (that is our excuse) we took the easy but expensive option of the chair lift and snowmobile. The chair lift deposited us in no time at 2500m, more layers of clothing were added then it was aboard the snowmobile buses to the crater zone at 2920m, starting to wish I'd brought more layers, boy it was cold. Once off the bus our volcanologist guide (we thought Dr Spock was a volcanologist but our guide didn't look anything like him, mind you he kept his woolly hat on so we couldn't check his ears!) took us on a walk for about an hour, around some of the smaller crater rims and bubbling mud pools, showing us the radial fault lines, finding hot steamy vents and warm rocks to keep the chill from our bones. He was interesting, enthusiastic and informative, clearly enjoying his job up there in the freezing cold!!! The clouds gathered but we could still see the summit letting off steam, and the vista over Sicily and out to sea was spectacular.
As we descended, warming up all the time, we headed inland. We planned to head to Villa Romana del Casale a 3rd century Roman villa with an outstanding mosaic floor that lay undiscovered until the 1950's. What we didn't quite plan for were the Sicilians roads and the somewhat challenging road signs or in many cases the lack of road signs. It all made for rather an interesting afternoon, 1 driver, 3 rather poor maps in the hands of 3 conflicting navigators plus "Mrs G" Destinys plugin electronic GPS. None of the small towns had bypasses, neither did they have signposts out of them again. Our maps were of no use at all and "Mrs G' tried her best but she didn't know which roads were oneway, it was quite a testing time for all concerned, and in several instances we just went round and round in circles, until Mark decided to adopt the 'when in Rome' attitude and totally ignored several oneway street signs - things speed up after that.
We even tried our hand at some off-roading when suddenly our road disappeared, washed away by recent rains we assume, we carried on hoping it might reappear soon, we were miles from anywhere and didn't fancy being stranded. The surroundings were beautiful, no space was wasted, there were vineyards, olive groves and many miles of fields that had recently had crops harvested all very well cared for. Most was gently rolling countryside, the landscape a wonderful blend of colours. We finally arrived at the Villa at 5.30pm - it had just closed, the LP said it closed at 6.30pm but maybe we were out of season now, oh well the drive had been worth it. Now "Mrs G" and helpers just had to get us back to Siracusa again. Lets just say after several more small roads, detours, one way streets in closed up little towns and road signs that didn't lead to roads we finally arrived back at 9.30pm, collapsed into the first pizzeria we found for much needed food and drink then wearily headed back to the boats totally exhausted but happy in the knowledge that we had explored parts of southeast Sicily that very few other tourists are ever likely to!!!
Sunday got off to a much slower start and a less ambitious plan was hatched -a leisurely 11am departure and a 35km drive to nearby Noto. The original ancient town was reduced to rubble in 1693 by an earthquake and the 'new' town is billed as the finest baroque town in Sicily. It did not disappoint, the honey coloured sandstone buildings are beautiful, the wide streets ideal for allowing plenty of space to stand back and admire. Recently added to UNESCO's ever growing list of World Heritage sites there are some major renovations underway and some buildings already completely restored. A timely thunderstorm gave us a good excuse for a long leisurely enjoyable lunch before returning to Siracusa. Never wanting to pass an opportunity of having a car to transport provisions, we detoured to the huge Carrefour supermarket and possibly broke our previous record of how many groceries we can fit into a Fiat Panda with 4 people!!!
The days passed by, we enjoyed wandering Siracusa's rabbit warren of lanes, we visited the daily morning market never quite brave enough to sample some of the unidentifiable produce on offer, and we just couldn't quite bring ourselves to partake in the mountains of snails that appeared for sale each time it rained! A few settled days came and went, as did boats. We farewelled Destiny as they headed for Malta during a lull in the winds. We had finally met Peter and Sandra off Bondi Tram from Sydney who had been on our cruisers radio net for the past two years and had been in front of us all the way up the Red Sea last year and through Croatia this year, it was a brief but enjoyable catch up with them before they too departed for Malta. But as boats left, more were arriving, Blue Banana from the USA arrived enroute to Tunisia, with Sam and Bill onboard, another boat we had never met but spoken to often on 'the net' and we enjoyed their company for a few days.
The storms continued to pass through, thunder and lightening like never before - just days and days of it - we made quick trips ashore between the showers to maintain our sanity, stretch our legs, get provisions, grab an excellent gelato and the occassional mouthwatering pizza. Had there been a safe and secure marina here I don't think we would have left, it's a laidback kind of place, small, interesting and enjoyable. But the marina doesn't have a breakwater, the boats in there were rolling more than some of us at anchor, eventually the time had come to move on.
Cruising info for Siracusa, Sicily:
Anchorages - 
We ended up anchoring in 4 different spots, 2 in the southern bay and 2 in the north. The 2nd spot in the north was closer to town to get out of the swell but when the winds eased the coastguard asked us all to move back out so I have only given the one they were happy with. The one given in the south is good for night arrival if a southerly is blowing. 
Siracusa South ..
. 37 02.427N 15 17.509E dropped 8m settled 13m, totally sheltered in southerly
Siracusa North ... 37 03.556N 15 17.316E 9m mud good holding. We took our dinghy into the marina and locked it right by the Marina office, they didn't mind
Internet - Dongle now working, We bought it in Brindisi, it is an unlocked one (should be able to use any country with any providers sim card) Dongle cost 89E, 100hours access 15E using WIND, (can get smaller amount but I had paid for 100hours when arriving in Brindisi thinking I would be using it for all the time in Italy) Vodafone offer one month or 3GB's for 25E we thought the 100hours was better for us. Then paid another 15E for connection or something that we couldn't understand THEN another 2 lots of 5E in Brindisi trying to get it to go, then another 5E in Siracusa when I was told to wait 24hours before using it, and now it goes!!! Not sure how long unused credit will last.
Money - Several ATM's in town
Provisions - The morning market is excellent, fresh produce, fish and seafood (snails if it rains!!) also olives, cheeses, breads and butcher. Head straight ahead from the marina exit towards sea on the other side. Go past big ruins on your right, turn right and then left.Supermarket, small but adequate - turn right before/at ruins (same ruins as in previous directions!) and go up the main street. Think it's first lane (maybe 2nd) on left, about 2nd shop in on left, no sign outside. You can see the Carrefour sign lit up at night from the anchorage but its hard to get to without a car.
Formalities - Coastguard came around every couple of days. The first time they asked where we had come from and where our next port would be. No paperwork needed . Still not completed any in Italy.
Sightseeing - Rented our car from Hollywood Rentals, cheap and cheerful. Turn left out of marina entrance, then 1st right and they are on the first corner on the right. The Fiat Panda was 70E for 2days weekend rate including only 200kms (all companys same limited mileage and yes, this was the cheapest around by far) Our so extra miles cost 52E and fuel 22E, not so bad between 2 couples. Certainly not a cheap way to see Mt Etna but cheaper than staying in the marina in Riposte. Visiting Mt Etna - the cable car and bus combo was 51E per person (eek!) Only cable car 30E. It's a huge walk from the carpark - you would want all day, and it's still a big walk from the top of the cable car. Charge for a halfday in the carpark was a couple of euros.

No comments: