Fun in Sorrento

Last time we passed through Sorrento on our way back from Capri it was grey and raining and we hurried through to the train station heads down. Today the sun scorched your eyeballs out. Heat fell from above only to bounce back from the pavements. The tour groups trouping along the streets, each following a piper of the furled umbrella held aloft, looked disconsolate. American voices sounded across the thronged mediaeval passages, holding up tablecloths for their friends along the street to comment on and coming out of ‘Nico and Friends’ with bulging glossy carriers. We headed to the cliff top, where the lift opens and had beers in the café there in spite of the hiked tourist prices just to have a sea breeze blow over us. Then we bought cones from their gelateria, which takes its’ money by machine; John fed a note in and the change splashed out the bottom, whilst the girl who had served our ices looked on amused. We found a tucked away bench in the shade of the little garden to scoff them before they dripped away. The white roses have finished their first spectacular flush, but there is promise of more to come and the pastel pink and yellow tone prettily with the ice creams.. After scraping sticky fingers clean on the tiny paper serviettes we set off bravely back through the narrow streets to book a table for dinner. The would be charmer of the street-side restaurant heading into the labyrinth tried yet again to tempt us in, ‘for coffee, glass of Prosecco, spaghetti vongole, pizza, please-a Senorina,’ handing me my fifth post card of the season, ‘for later perhaps?’ After three years I think I’m beginning to look familiar to him and not in an encouraging way, his fervour is noticeably dwindling. Instead we booked in to O’ Parrucchiano, walking in from the street through the tiers of empty set tables in the marble cool, past the ‘Restaurant open upstairs’ notices and up into the greenhouse structure of the garden proper; also empty at this time, save for an elderly lady folding napkins and the boss lady doing paperwork. She took our booking briskly and dismissed us with a see you later. This lady does not need to coax. Still she bade us a pleasant good evening when we came back that night at eight and a young woman led us to a table at the edge of the garden. The impatiens are awash with clashing colours and the lemon trees heavy with fruit; the cobweb of fairy lights and the wedding cake tiers of citronella burners all worked their magic. The menu had been shortened to a two- page laminate. Even more sadly the ham and broad bean pasta was not on it. We hope this is just for the summer season. There was still an abundance of choice and we shared the homemade Scialetti pasta with a selection plate of vegetables, unusual and delicious as ever. The peaches are still out of season, so John had strawberries and ice cream, while I had a measure of Cointreau poured over my vanilla ice, a very good measure at that, enough to make coffee necessary as well as desirable. We went out through the garden and John took a picture back into the fairyland, capturing its enchantment. Then it was out into the supermarket car park and home through the quiet streets,

On the second day of our visit we made straight for the Lido, this time to Leonelli’s beach, the middle one, which had looked less hectic from the cliff top. Not that any of them were busy first thing on a Monday morning. We picked out a couple of loungers and a parasol on the sea wall, not too close to the steps into the water and settled down to sunbathe and read. We left the parasol down to begin with, there was a nice breeze from the sea, and at one point a startling spray as the wake from an errant ferry hit the rocks below. After an hour or so we ventured down the metal steps into the artificial lagoon, a bit breathtaking at first, but then wonderfully cool. The day passed quickly and suddenly we were both ravenous and shared a pizza, brought out to our now shaded loungers with a couple of cold beers. It had all the greedy pleasure of eating good fish and chips from newspaper. Afterwards we lay back and left it a while before our next swim, though we stayed all afternoon and had our moneys worth.

On the last full day we headed to the art gallery, Sorrento Fondazione, to see the Matisse exhibition in the cool of the air conditioning. It was mainly framed monochrome book pages and did not really set the heart alight. On our way out we went down to the basement to look at a collection of music boxes or carillons donated to the museum by Enrico Salerno. We were looking at the first room of instruments, all brass and polished inlay, but could hear one playing from the next room. We looked in and were beckoned across by Mario, forever friend of the late Enrico, a Geppetto like old gentleman who had hand crafted many of the boxes. He showed us the marquetry tools and photographs of himself using them as a young man with good eyesight. He brought the collection to life, with a commentary in broken English, touring the display setting the various discs and cylindars going and playing music from Evita to Mozart by way of Verdi, whose Hebrew slaves kept coming back on and needed a stern talking to and a sliver of plastic in their mechanism. The purest, most reverberant sound came from a large wooden box Mario himself had made in the sixties, with a German mechanism and a robust large copper disc. It played Lara’s theme and it was so beautiful I was nearly undone. As people came and went he took them on a repeat circuit, playing the same boxes and making the same remarks, like one of his mechanisms. We thanked him and left as he came to the box we had started with. Next we investigated the gardens of the museum, which have elements of a folk museum about them and grow increasingly wild and more interesting the further you explore.

After the museum we crossed into Marina Grande, the picturesque little harbour of the second smaller cove. We sat at Nonna Emilia’s tables along the harbour wall and had beer and Aperol Spritze at reasonable prices followed by sandwiches of epic proportion, watching life go by. It was mainly a procession of tourists and the odd bit of drama from dogs and cats. The floating red submarine bounced in on the swell up to the dock to disgorge its’ queasy looking passengers and set out again riding the ocean wave. I think a conventional glass bottomed boat might be more stable in the sea and less claustrophobic. The fisherman looked upon it with flinty eyes. The heat of the day was passing and we headed back to base. Back to Stabia tomorrow and hopefully to a final Bimini fitting.






Posted in Food, Sightseeing, Star Gazing, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Return to Stabia

Home again next day, with the Bay wreathed in mist as it had been on our first crossing. We had the most successful two-person approach to the pontoon yet and celebrated with lunch at the Captain’s Cabin.

We had an early morning appointment with the Bimini man, who came promptly at nine with his son and took the old Bimini away. This was not good news on two counts, the first being it left us with no shade above deck and the second that we worried he might just copy the old Bimini, without our shoddy but necessary alterations. We decided to keep faith in the man, who is coming to make a fitting on Saturday, and set about fashioning a boom tent from the side panels of the Bimini. It was a bit Heath Robinson, but it did the trick. It was still there when we came back from the little shop with ships stores and we augmented our curb appeal with a couple of loads of washing strung across the fore-deck.

After our day of chores we relaxed by the pool for the day. There was just us, a few Italian mums with very small children and a group of workmen building a narrow stage in a corner. Later that evening they were showing an opera performance. We enjoyed it twice from the boat, once a quiet run through at tea time and then the full volume after dark. Unfortunately we lost some of the second rendition as a chap on a neighbouring boat inflated a large rubber ring with a pneumatic pump. The worst of it was the thing and gone down again by next day, but perhaps it was a test to check it was ok for his grandchildren. Perhaps this was the Italian form of risk assessment.

John decided we could not possibly sail to Amalfi with no Bimini. I mentioned the fact we had manage to travel the length of Portugal and across much of Spain in just such a manner, but apparently that was not the same as we had a Bimini when we stopped. I indicated the glories of our present patchwork arrangements, but he just shook his head. I don’t think he wanted the Coppola brothers to laugh at us. However we could go the shorter distance to Sorrento and who could possibly argue against Sorrento.







Posted in Chores, Pool, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Beach

John had done some research online and the beaches were mainly run by concessions, which rented out loungers etc for the day, so we set out with just our towels and various things to read. We went through the streets, over the saddle and down to the largest of the beaches, Serapo. The sand was covered by various arrays of parasols, each one flanked by a pair of loungers with a folding chair propped between. We paid at the desk and followed a young man out into the matrix to our spot, half way to the sea. The ranks of beach furniture started off orderly as soldiers on parade, but gradually frayed along the seams as beds were pulled into or out of the shade and chairs were borrowed from other stations. Groups of young folk and large families crowded round each parasol, with all the paraphernalia of a day at the beach.

After letting laying claim to our own space we ventured down to the sea. The beach sloped very gradually, small waves rolled in taking our breath as cold water claimed fresh inches of flesh. It took a while to wade out to a swimmable depth, in my case on tiptoe, but once in the water was glorious. Looking back to shore the beach was dark with bodies as far as the eye could see, the shallow water thronged with paddlers and ball throwers, but out chest deep there were few fellow swimmers. Below us passed shoals of fish, unconcerned by the human invaders. After a while it became chill, so we retired to base and pulled the loungers into the sun to dry off, then it was back to the shade and our books. We repeated the process several times, at one point buying a couple of cold beers from the kiosk. It became clear that the sand had reached scorching point. Teenagers that had been strolling back and forth to the sea were suddenly skipping past at a bouncy trot and mums were jogging uncomfortably carrying their children. We discussed whether or not to venture down for another swim, the wisdom of taking our shoes or just making a dash for it. In the end we lay back down and watched the antics of the family next to us. They were sprawled about the two parasols immediately on the seaward side of us. There were two women, possibly sisters, a tall man, a couple of teenagers girls and three smaller children all taking turns to wear a straw trilby hat.  At first it was on the head of the little girl over her plaits, she looked very sweet. All was peace, the adults and teens sunbathing, the three children off with buckets and spades. Then the oldest boy arrived back wearing the hat. His mum erupted from her lounger, gave him a death stare and strode down to the sea barefoot, but oblivious of pain. She came back with a small child squirming on either side, plonked them in the middle of the camp and tore a brief strip off the older lad, who was already in a pre-emptive sulk, before marched back to the shore. She returned with a fistful of spades, full buckets and a watering can, which splashed much their contents as she strode. The children were to stay where she could see them. She lay back down. Dad was dispensed back to the sea to refill the buckets and can. He shambled down with the weary gate of a man, who understood this was now going to be the shape of his afternoon. He wore his flip-flops and the hat. All was peace till the moment when the smallest boy, naturally wearing the hat, stepped a little way away from the loungers, pulled down his trunks and let forth an impressive arch of wee, spattering the sand some distance away. He pulled up his trunks and sat back down happily. The grown ups all looked at one another and set the small girl the task of watering over the top with her can. She sprinkled a dainty pattern round that of her brother. People instinctively avoided the area on their rush to the sea. We finally decide to go for it and prudently passed on the other side, hugging the shade from the next row of parasols and then making a dash for it. I found the worst thing was the hot sand landing on top of my toes and was glad to stand with my feet in the cool water. It did not make wading further in any easier, but the swim was very refreshing. By the time we finished our swim the family were in the throws of packing up and setting off home. We drying off in the ensuing quiet and then made our own way back.

That evening we ate out in the square by the funfair, watching a terrifying ride where youths goaded each other to push flying chairs higher and higher until one of them managed to catch a bunch of streamers hung from a buoy some distance away.There is no Italian phrase for risk assessment..







Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Exploring the Citadel

Today the newer part of Gaeta straddles the low saddle of land either side of a high rugged peninsula, which was the original Roman stronghold around which a mediaeval town grew. It was one of the Mediterranean’s maritime republics and has passed through various hands over the centuries. Some of the old town still stands, crumbling round the fortress and meandering along the arc of the harbour, but much was destroyed or rendered unsafe by bombing in the war, I think by the Allies, though they are too tactful to say. Pragmatically the ruins were left to sort themselves out and new building started on the low land between the harbour on one coast and the beaches on the other. When we stopped here three years ago John’s knee was very painful, so our exploring was limited to staying on the flat, following the sea front in both directions. This visit we decided to climb up into the old town proper and across through the new to the opposite coast.

First the old town, we set out after breakfast retracing our steps of yesteryear along the sea front into town, further than I had remembered. John suggested we cross the road to browse a ribbon of street market stalls; an array of antique furniture and mirrors, second hand books, medals, tools and home made jewellery, mostly junk, which was just as well. John’s idea of browsing is to walk at his normal pace past the stalls, with the occasional sideways glance. When the stalls petered out we crossed back to the landward side of the road in time for a coach to pull up and disgorge a large party of elderly tourists, who ambled frustratingly along in front of us before turning in at the first square and heading into the large church, the SS. Annunziata, in which there is a celebrated Golden Chapel. Rather than tag on behind a shuffling tour we decided to leave that for now and carry on up to the prominent Cathedral on the hill. It took a couple of goes to find the right passage up and it was quiet a pull, to arrive at a magnificent set of steps up to the front entrance, which were railed off by closed metal gates. A notice on these gates suggested the Cathedral should be open, it being Saturday. A crumbling weed choked stone stairway zigzagged unconvincingly up next to the immaculate gated steps. We decided it was worth a try and set off up, to be rewarded by arriving at the road leading into an open area in front of the Cathedral with magnificent views over the port.


The Cathedral entrance was dolled up for a wedding, with a long white carpet extending out from the nave, down the front steps between four white polystyrene urns. The flower arrangements for these urns were lurking on the floor in the cool of the interior. Obviously the wedding party was not due yet, so we followed a trickle of visitors skirting the immaculate carpet and exploring the soaring interior. There were other flower arrangements, magnificent mounds of blush pink roses and white hydrangeas in taller white urns, a white swathed alter and in a corner a violin and organ rehearsing the bridal music, whilst a smartly dressed woman filmed them on her phone. Other tourists were wandering about taking pictures, but we felt intrusive and crept away. Back outside in the heat we turned to road. One way led back down into the town and the other receded into a track unsuitable for vehicles apart from access. We headed up that. It climbed through scrub and wildflowers with enough shade to make the helter-skelter trail bearable. At each hairpin bend to sea we were rewarded by breathtaking views across the town and over the edge. At each turn inland was a building of some kind, usually large and old behind a high wall, but one turn came to shanty arrangement, with a small pen containing goats and a white horse. There was a shack with two men stood talking in a doorway across which was strung a half skinned rabbit. The man on the inside held a large table knife. Shades of Deliverance, we passed swiftly by. Our passage disturbed the butterflies; groups of sulphurous yellow ones rising like naughty petals from the gorse, tiny crazy white ones, jerky with panic and a single larger languid individual, the colour of crème de menthe, exquisitely veined. I failed to capture any of them on my phone camera. There was a hum of insects and the occasional fragment of conversation between other walkers hidden in turns of the zigzag path. There were several false summits, at one we came to the start, start mind you, of a fitness trail. Finally we reached the top and the only view was of a large water tower and the top of the lighthouse, where a dog barked manically at us. We sat on a bench and ignored it. It seemed prudent to circumnavigate the water tower just in case it was blocking a magnificent panoramic vista, but it wasn’t. There was a different path down though, so to avoid disturbing the rabid hound again we took that and came out at the end of the fitness trail, from where we could see the white head of a statue, which turned out to be a Madonna and child looking out south over the town, so we did have a panorama in the direction we had come. There was Lyra far below in the marina, the town laid out like a model and the mountains to the south. We retraced our steps back down and this time there were no signs of other people. Back at the Cathedral we followed the road back down into town, where all was quiet. The restaurants and bars in the square were closed, hunkered down under slightly collapsed umbrellas. Gasping, we stopped for a drink at a bar on the corner by the port, where the toilet had a Roman column preserved in a corner. We went back to Hermes bar and had a late lunch of tiella, the local pie. Today’s was egg and zucchini and was most delicious.

The number one restaurant in Gaeta is the pizza bar at the start of the mediaeval street behind the sea front. There always queues in the early evening with people staggering away under a pile of pizza boxes or sat on a bench sharing large ovals of pizza. We looked in past the throng at the door at the start of our evening promenade and saw a melee of folk shouting and gesticulating over a glass counter full of toppings and did not have the nerve to attempt an order. After strolling the length of the old street and coming back along the front we headed up into the new town and found a small brown restaurant called the Cellar Door on the edge of a housing estate. They could give us a table till 9.30, which suited us. There were lots of Italian families with small children, which we took to be the early sitting. The menu specialised in steaks, but there were some interesting pasta dishes, John had ravioli stuffed with squash and ricotta in a tomato sauce I had mushroom linguini with truffle after we had shared an antipasti of cold cuts and cheeses. By nine the place was filling up, but still with families, small children, grannies, dogs, the lot. One small boy had eyes like saucers when he was served a steak like his Dad; another Dad looked bone tired swapping his ice cream for the third time. We had coffee and were all done before nine thirty, though we seemed the only people concerned. We walked back down to the port, where the benches were still full of pizza eaters.


Posted in Food, Sightseeing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sail! A Sail!

Our long trip to Gaeta turned out to be a glorious sail with the wind on our quarter. Five hours of pure pleasure, when we sat back and rode the wind letting the autopilot take the strain. I felt sorry when it came to an end and we furled the sails to motor in. We had planned to arrive well into the afternoon, but our speed under sail brought us in early and it was only just after two, rather close to lunchtime like our previous arrival in Gaeta, which had been somewhat stressful. John had forgotten, so I read excerpts of my blog entry to bring him up to speed. As it turned out this time was an entirely different experience. Our radio call was again answered promptly, but this time a marinera came out quickly in a rib and showed us to a much better situated berth for our size of boat. When John turned in there another marinera was on the pontoon waiting for us and the exchange of lines went very smoothly. By the time we had showered and changed the office was open, so we sorted out the paperwork on our way out to Hermes, the bar we remembered from our first visit. The beer was still most excellent. The marina now has its’ own yacht club restaurant so we had dinner there. We both started with prawn cocktails, served in a shallow bowl over a glass of luminous liquid our waiter said was Spritz. We could not decide whether or not we were supposed to drink it and decided not. John followed with a steak, I had pistachio crusted chicken and we shared fries and grilled vegetables. Then we wended our way back home to sit up on deck watching the lights reflected along the shore.






Posted in Sailing, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment


Ponza is the main island of the Pontine group, higher and more rugged than Ventotene, its’ coast riddled with geological features. We were careful to avoid some of the more outlying ones on our way in. The main harbour is a pretty town of square pastel houses climbing the hill, a bit reminiscent of Capri back in the day. Despite the fact that anchoring is supposedly forbidden most of the yachts there were at anchor and we were in splendid isolation on the end of the pontoon. The water was again crystal clear and as we looked down into it small mauve jellyfish swirled round each other down into the depths like Dementors, tentacles trailing. The crosses on top of their heads glowed purple from above, shading to metallic burgundy shot with gold as they tilted, fascinating to look at, but a definite deterrent to swimming.

After the quiet of Ventotene the traffic along the front and the press of people seemed hectic.

Having skipped lunch we ate out early at a taverna on the side of the harbour. It looked rather pretty till the patron started stringing up individual battery powered plastic light bulbs from the umbrellas over the tables as people were trying to eat. He had a slightly distracted manner and even with the help of the young waitress managed to confuse our order, so that though my modest rocket salad starter was as expected, John was served a huge bowl of shellfish followed by a big plate of much the same shellfish in thick pasta as a main, while I was given an empty plate with which to share it. As it turned out there was actually plenty for both of us, hopefully making up for some of the indulgences of the last two days and it was very cheap. We headed off before the lighting became dependent on the motley distribution of dim bulbs and explored the town in the gathering dusk. Narrow passageways of steep steps led up to a cobbled terrace of shops and candle lit bars, enchanting in the twilight. We stopped off in one and identified a restaurant for tomorrow night and a patisserie for breakfast. Along the length of the street were white filigree metal archways of fairy lights, like the ones used for festivals on Ischia. As night fell none of the lights came on and John consulted the Google oracle and found a two-week festival starts at the coming weekend. We shall just miss it.

Next day after our pastries and cappuccinos we had decided to take a boat tour to view the sea stacks and arches up close without risk to the gel coat. There are several concessions along the port, each offering a five-hour tour around the whole island with lunch and swimming stops or a one-hour to the point and back.  Five hours sounded like another days sailing and we did not fancy swimming if the jellyfish were spawning, so opted for the short tour. We were joined by an Italian couple, which worked out very well as the boatman kept stopping to come round from his little wheel house and offer them a booming commentary in Italian as we rode the chop and dodged the spray. The coastline is a spectacular mix of rock features, full of folds and intrusions and I clicked away happily with the camera. On the way back our Captain road up onto a nearby beach to drop the young couple off. The beach looked pretty quiet and we could see the jellyfish washing about here too, though our companions managed to climb over the bow and paddle to the shore unscathed. Our man stayed behind his wheel for the remainder of the trip back and as he kept the prow nosed up against the harbour wall for us also to climb over and out, rather less nimbly in my case. I had thoroughly enjoyed the tour, but was glad we had not opted for the longer one. We had pizza for lunch from a wood-burning oven, very crisp and oozing cheese; our first of the year. To walk it off we climbed to the top of the town and walked a little way along the cliff top, but then realised we were on top of one of the overhangs we had seen from below and hastily backtracked. Climbing in the opposite direction we reached the cemetery, the dead being kept away from the living by being interred high above them, traditionally segregated, men according to status with women and children allocated separate spaces.

Our evening plans looked set to fail at the first hurdle when we arrived at the bar to find it heaving. We walked to the end of the street, but did not find an alternative. On our second pass a group at the end table at the front were standing and gathering themselves ready to leave, so we hung back and jumped in their graves. After that the evening progressed as planned. We watched a complex cars cradle of wires being woven along the far harbour wall and more fairy lights being strung up. A huge party of adults and children all very dressed up gathered behind us and we held our breath, but they were booked into the other restaurant, which they filled. We were very pleased with our choice, which was run entirely by women. We shares had a very fishy supper, sharing penne with monkfish to start and them plaice in lemon. After our coffees our waitress offered us shots of the local fennel liqueur, which was less fiery than anise with a more complex taste. Unfortunately the shops were closed by the time we made our way home and we have an early start tomorrow for the long journey to Gaeta. A fierce wind came through in the early hours and woke John, he looked out and all the festival lights had been turned on, no doubt to test them. Luckily I woke shortly after and he told me to look out, so I saw them too and very pretty they were.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Island Life

After breakfast we set out to explore the island. John had spotted the tourist office at the top of the zigzag slope up to the square. The door was open, with a wooden chair set invitingly at one side. We approached and found ourselves on the threshold of three steep steps leading down into a small, gloomy room, built well below street level. We were looking down on a blonde woman sat behind a lovely old wooden desk, looking back at us in a coy sideways manner. John asked if she spoke English. “A little.” We descended the steps. John, “Do you have a map?” drawing a square with his hands. “No.” We all looked at one another. “I am not the Tourist Office, I just take care villas, houses. The Tourist Office is …” At which point she lapsed into Italian and pointed down. John, “Down on the port?” “Si, porto” she stood up and came outside with us and pointed to our right, “The pink house.” We exchanged smiles and said thank you and grazie and she went back down into her room and we went back down the slopes. We circled the tourist office on two levels but it was comprehensively shut. John took out his phone and we consulted the map and worked out a route round the island. It was not difficult there being only one main road to the far point and a bit of a loop round the town. The road was made of concrete and followed the dramatic coastline before heading across the island. A party of school children in yellow baseball hats were ranged painting the views from the cliffs. They had smart matching tunics and each had an impressive box of new paints. As we passed them they were enjoying an ice cream break, while their work and the paints balanced precariously on the sea wall. We headed out through fields of wildflowers, poppies, fennel and such along with crops of lentils and eruptions of prickly pear cactus, some covered in yellow flowers some in bruise coloured fruits. The air smelled of summer and a huge yellow butterfly danced around us, but would not land for a picture. Occasionally we stood in to make way for small three-wheel trucks, and a couple of motor scooter wound past us, but mostly there was quiet and the song of birds, determined cheeping from the many sparrows and the woodwind notes of pigeons.  We passed people busy in their gardens, a couple of men power walking and the site of the Roman cistern, which we peered at through the gate as it was closed. The sanctuary for migrating birds was also shut, we said hello to a couple women reading the noticeboard outside it. Obviously the tourist office was closed because none of the attractions were open. The island itself was attraction enough; we headed out to the point, with cliffs dipping steeply to our right. Far below in the azure sea a yacht was at anchor for a lunchtime swim. The end of the island was less dramatic. Although the map urged us onwards we arrived at a no entry sign and a dirt turning circle. We stopped retraced our steps to the junction with the road to the opposite coast. We came to the school, empty and quiet, was it a holiday or had the whole school been shut so the pupils could paint en pleine air? The graffiti art, showing the school perched like a coning tower on the back of a smiling whale, was testament to a commitment to art. Above the whale floated hot air balloons, a motif we saw repeatedly on tiles and woodwork all across the island. With a bit of help from Google the Captain discovered that a balloon festival is held here in September every year. Balloons fly overhead and of course there are fireworks, so we hope to come back later this year.

Coming back into town we had to step into doorways to be passed by the fleet of the small vans and cars heading up from the harbour. The ferry must have arrived. We came down to the Roman harbour worried the restaurant might be swamped by trippers, and we fancied trying the local speciality of bruschetta with lentils and seafood we had seen on their blackboard. Fortunately this early in the season there were just a few other couples like ourselves. We sat in the shade under the pumice arches after shaking the gritty dust from the white cushions. The cliffs are shedding crumbs of rock at a steady rate as the seagulls shuffle about above. The waitress came and dusted the table for us and took our order. The bruschetta was excellent; the bread really crisp, I think it had been fried, so much for our light lunch.

After lunch we changed into our swimming gear, broke out the mats and parasol and headed to the small beach across from the boat. There was a larger more glamorous looking beach through a rock arch from the Roman harbour, but that faced the open sea. John reasoned the beach inside the arch of the new harbour would have warmer water and we knew from the crystal clarity of the harbour, the sea urchins on the rocks and the big shoals of bream we could see from the pontoon that this harbour is very clean. The sight of young children dashing in and out of the sea barefoot was also encouraging from the sea urchin point of view. We wandered round and set up camp in front of the graffiti mermaid sprayed onto the sea wall. The graffiti artist here has a talent for haunting faces, there is another on the wall of the marina. A pity neither of us had brought a phone to capture her and I had been too busy with the fenders on our way in. After giving our lunchtime to settle we dipped a toe in the water. It was definitely fresh, but we pressed on inch by chilly inch until we had reached a depth to take the plunge. John took it first and assured me it was like a warm bath. I prudently ignored him and dithered around a bit longer splashing my arms before launching past the point of no return and swimming madly till the burning sensations stopped. After that it was bliss. We spent the rest of the afternoon alternately swimming and drying off looking across at Lyra. We packed up around four and it was just as well, for we arrived back on board in time for John to fend off a charter boat full of Germans intent on ramming us as they came in. They were of an age, around forty, and oddly all dressed in identical matelot sweat shirts. None of them thanked John for averting disaster, which is odd, as other German sailors we have met have had immaculate manners. Mind you they could also sail. They were joined by another boatful and began playing schlock seventies music very loudly as they swam from their respective boats and yelled to one another. We had planned to return to the wonderful garden restaurant we had dined at on our first night and decided to shower and go out early. To delay things we had a glass of prosecco in the bar, but were still the first customers of the night. They were all smiles to see us again and promptly brought out a plate of raw fish to tempt us with its glistening freshness. Of course we succumbed, this time accompanied by homemade pasta in a tomato sauce.  By carefully selecting different deserts I nearly completed sampling the menu, which I rank as follows:

Equal third place – Mixed Berry Tart with crème patisserie and Dark Chocolate Mousse Cup with cherries

Second place – Éclair with burnished white chocolate (think whipped Caramac) topped with citrus meringue, (light and crispy, though very sweet)

First by a nose – Bronte biscuit with roasted pistachio ice cream. The ice cream was extraordinary. All definitely worth the calories. By the time we trundled back all was quiet on the pontoon and we slept like logs.

Next morning our neighbours left early, but we had only a short sail to Ponza, so went up to the square to the supermarket and afterwards had a luxurious cappuccino served with fresh whipped cream from a café with a small, round King Charles Spaniel with very soft ears. They had a wonderful selection of patisseries and croissants, so we cursed ourselves for not coming for breakfast, though it’s probably just as well or I will be as round as the dog, but less cute with it.

We stopped at the marina office to pay and the young man at the desk asked where we were from and yes, he knew, Sheffield near Manchester, he supported Manchester United. At this point our taciturn hairy marinera became positively chatty, we discovered he spoke fluent football teams. He supported Manchester City, no United. He nodded politely about John supporting Bournemouth and shrugged sympathetically about Sheffield Wednesday, but Manchester City was his, a good team, they had… here his English faltered and I said plenty of money rubbing my thumb and fingers together and they all laughed and agreed. He followed us out to the boat to see us off and continued the conversation. His team from Germany… Bayern Munich, no France, Lazio from Italy, which we assume was his first love and Real Madrid from Espania. As we were about to set off the ferry came into view, our man squinted at it and then nodded that we should go, pushing his fist forward on an imaginary throttle. By the time I remembered that I had intended to take a picture of the graffiti art the ferry was in the way and it was too late. I really hope we have the chance to go back.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Ventotene

Ever since we arrived in Naples we have been meaning to visit a set of islands further offshore, reputed to be unspoiled and beautiful. So far we have been thwarted by lack of time or poor weather, but today the winds are forecast to be light, so the moment has finally arrived and we are due to set off for the first one Ventotene. It is a low island and said to be one to avoid in poor weather. Our pilot book describes it as an ex prison colony covered in prickly pears and scrub, not exactly selling it, but the waiter at La Calise and the marina boss here act as though it is a lovely place.

Frank came to say goodbye as I was waiting for John to come back from the office, so I asked him about Ventotene. He said there was a wonderful festival there in September, with fireworks and hot air balloons. “They always say if you can see Ventotene from here it’s too windy to go there”, pause, ”that’s it over there.” I squinted at the horizon, but could make nothing out. “Course it doesn’t always follow.” Thank you Frank! John arrived back at this point. I decided not to mention Frank’s rough rule of thumb, especially as I could see no island out there and we set off. Three hours later, the wind was much stronger than forecast. It seemed a bit late to say anything. The low shape of Ventotene rose before us, with the adjacent rock of Stefano with its’ abandoned penal colony sitting on top like a pillbox to port. There were several yachts sailing about, but we were making purposefully for Porto Nuova, the larger of the two harbours. A rib came storming up and tried to entice us into the Roman harbour of Porto Vecchio. Frank stays at this one and the pilot book covers it first. Mooring involves turning ninety degrees to starboard on entry and going bows to against a quay with underwater rocks. Other members of the cruising association strongly advised against going in. We took their advice. The rib roared away and we turned into the other marina, where we had a booking. A hairy guy in another rib came out. He was a man of few words, most of them Italian and in sharp contrast with his competitor seemed reluctant to take us on. He checked our details over the radio, looked sideways at us and quoted the price for two nights and only when we agreed set off for the pontoon and waved us in. We managed a nigh on perfect docking and he disappeared into the office and came back with a till receipt, which turned out to be the Wifi password.

It is a beautiful spot. Very peaceful with crystal clear water and unusual low rippling tuff cliffs. We walked through to the other harbour where the tuff rock had been sculpted by the Romans into caves to hold their galleys and produced structures worthy of Gaudi. The caves now are used for restaurants and bars and we stopped at the first one, because it was so beautifully decked out with vases of wild flowers and baskets of petunias. It was also a shop selling local produce and pottery, had a wide selection of wines by the glass and the bar snacks were samples of the cheeses and deli treats the island had to offer. The end of the tiny harbour was rammed with small fishing boats and we watched a few old boys come in, though none had any fish, so we think they must have been out setting pots. The edge of the harbour in front of us turned out to be the main road to the ferry dock and when the cavernous ship came in a number of small vans and cars rattled past us, in both directions. After our drink we walked further along, past a number of dive schools and climbed the sloping ramps up into the town. Looking down on the yacht harbour we were glad we had not been persuaded in, it looked pretty tight down there. Further round was a lovely beach, with more restaurants and bars on which a few umbrellas fluttered. Up the narrow streets we came to a large square with some very fine municipal buildings, John speculated convict labour was responsible. He spotted a gelateria and we indulged in a couple of cones of the Nutella flavour to munch on our way back down.

Posted in Sailing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Day of Pasta and Roses

A lumpy crossing we had of it. I spent most of the time lying down to offset the nausea, having failed to put my wristbands on soon enough. Both of us were none the less thankful to at last be underway, all the more so as we were forecast to leave a rainy day in Stabia and head for sunshine on Ithaca. As I lay down Vesuvius glowered at us beneath rolling black clouds; it was raining on Naples too, but ahead were bright skies. Unfortunately as I surfaced four hours later when we reached the calmer waters of the channel between the islands Ithaca itself was under a towering black cloud. The air temperature dropped dramatically and we both donned our fleeces. Matters did not improve as we came into port and it started to spit with rain. A marinera was ready for us, wearing a bright white cap, but looked keen to withdraw back to the shelter of the office. Unfortunately for him another boat was following us in. We made a decent go of our first docking of the season; we were secure front and back so our chap headed off to bring in the other boat as we were finessing the lazy line. John was at the bow pulling us in and I was motoring slowly forward against the rear dock lines when the engine cut out. John came back, filthy but satisfied and I broke the news. John knew straight away what had happened. Something had become wrapped around the propeller. We both looked over the stern and realised it was the lazy line; we could see it through the water looping up from the dock to our rudder. We were joined in our survey by the marinera, who was equally glum and shook his head. We all agreed our arrival had appeared to go so smoothly, but there was the line and Lyra had a firm grip on it. “We will get a diver” he announced, shrugged, sighed and headed back to the office. Well we had planned to stay here a few days. The people in the office were very nice about it. John went in first with the paperwork and the boss, Fausto, sent him back for me, to have a coffee. We were both gasping for a cold beer, but it seemed churlish not to take them up on the offer. They were in the middle of a revamp, workmen and wires all over the place. Fausto took us away to the new coffee bar, an area of tables and sofas set out under stretched sails at the end of which stood the bar, mainly empty but with a large glittering coffee machine. He made us coffees powerful enough to put hairs on your chest and sat chatting about the new plans for the marina. It certainly looks more beautiful every time we come and they have always been extremely helpful to us. We came away buzzing and headed straight past Lyra and on to the bar of the Hotel Calise.

By this time it was well past lunch, but they bring such a variety of beer snacks as to constitute a personal finger buffet. We fell on the warm sausage rolls and pizza squares, crisps peanuts mini ham rolls and tiny bruschetta with a vengeance. School had turned out and a party of children were running to and fro in the square, tumbling up against the portentous body of the local priest, a huge man with glasses and a long black cassock. They pealed off in front of him as he made stately progress across the front of the hotel and into the church next door, smiling benignly at them. Moments later they all reappeared, strung out behind the priest in a dancing Pied Piper column disappearing into the mouth of the hotel, closely pursued by three mums. They came back out in twos and threes carrying ice cream cones and ranged themselves on the tables opposite. Priest and mums re-emerged also with cornets and they all sat chatting together, teasing one another and laughing. The children finished eating first and were off again, whirling like swallows in a game of tag. There was a holiday atmosphere to it all and we had to remind ourselves it was only Thursday. Sunday morning and we ran into the children again, or very nearly did, though on this occasion they were very dignified and orderly.

We had spent the previous two days revisiting favourite haunts, Ischia town on Friday and the garden, La Mortella, yesterday. In an effort to try something new we planned to take a taxi to Forio, the harbour with the long beach one overlooks from La Mortella. We decided this over a yummy croissant at La Calise, where the square was decorated with flags for Republic Day. There was to be a speech this evening by the newly elected mayor. We had to go back to Lyra to slather ourselves in sun cream for the day and fell into conversation with our neighbour, who flies the R.A.F. service personnel’s ensign. An obviously very experienced sailor he was phlegmatic about our recent attachment to the lazy line, ‘everyone does it at least once!’ He made us feel rather better by telling of when he had left his boat on the pontoon to return to England and had the marina call him, “Hey Frank, your boat it is sinking, but not to worry, we are pumping!” He has sailed in Greece and Croatia as well as Italy and was off to visit family at their nearby villa. On hearing our plans for the day he very kindly offered us a lift to Forio. He had a small Fiat parked across the street from the marina. I climbed in the back and John road shotgun. It was very hot and stuffy, so they wound their windows right down. That was the first mistake. We set off, started to turn right into the service road and came up short in front of a procession of children, dressed all in white, the girls in long dresses, each solemnly throttling a trio of long stemmed white lilies held in front of them. I think they were chanting or singing as they processed, but it was hard to tell because of the torrent of abuse coming at us from the lady in charge. She wanted us to reverse, but by this time we had been flanked by a second file of children coming slowly but inexorably down the other side of us. We had to sit there, half turned into the road as they slowly swept by. Frank apologised profusely in Italian, but the lady ended the discussion, with a rather rude gesture. “Oh dear”, said Frank with a smile, the children kept straight faces and eyes front. The priest had obviously trained them well.

After that the rest of our journey seemed uneventful, even with the hairpin corners and oncoming buses. Frank was even kinder than we though, because Fario was well beyond the turn off to his sister in laws villa. He dropped us by the port and we headed to the harbour to look at the boats before striking up into the town. A standing band was playing in the little square and the main street was lined with the arches of filigree lights they use for the festival in Lacco Amino. After exploring we went back to the sea front and found a table for two in a restaurant called Romantica, a name that brings back memories of our flotilla holidays in Greece. There were pots of red roses on the table, the food featured Roman speciality dishes, the first time I have associated romance with the toga and tunic brigade. I chose tortellini in broth followed by baby linguini alla limone, and John had a salad and then spaghetti with seafood. It was all very good. I was just on my first lot of pasta, (there being rather more tortellini in the broth than I had expected), when a large family came from inside the restaurant and began to fill a round table in the corner beside us. There were rather more of them than there was table, but they kept coming and a rather imposing lady with a commanding voice organised the waiters to sidle more and more chairs past us. In the end I was sitting virtually amongst them, with my back to the table. The woman set up a loud banter with an equally loud man. John and I tried to sidle our table slightly forward and were helped by a waiter, so we were still very close, but not quite so overwhelmed. We had just finished our main courses and our plates cleared when the waiter brought out their pasta dish in a huge earthenware pot. It smelled fantastic. There was a great roar of approval, mobile phones were brandished and the waiter proudly displayed the contents to be immortalised on phone. The waiters spread plates on a side table and began dishing it up. The pasta was the muscle bound spaghetti that looked to be fresh, but every so often a large bony lump of what looked like an oyster appeared. John and I speculated to each other that it might be ox tail. The fulsome lady turned to me and touched my arm – we were still very close – to explain it was a very special dish. I smiled, nodded approval and said “Aroma” in what I hoped was a manner that conveyed how impressed we were by the smell. I turned back and John said I think you are being given some. Sure enough a small plate was set down between us, rabbit in cooked with notes of sage in the sauce. Reader it was wonderful. Despite having eaten three lots of pasta I mopped the plate clean with bread. Obviously we thanked them profusely. She thought a moment to find the English to tell us it was rabbit and said I should order that next time rather than tortellini. The waiter looked horrified, I think at the prospect of having to cook a whole rabbit for two, but I smiled and said we would bring the family.

That evening we were too full to eat again but went to the jazz bar in Casamicciola as the population and their dogs washed around us, greeting each other, hugging and kissing. We could not hear the address of the mayor for the general air celebration and chat, but later back on Lyra we found we had a front row seat for the spectacular firework finale in the colours of the Italian flag.


Posted in Sailing, Sightseeing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


Wednesday, several soggy, windy days after our weekend away and the life raft has at long last arrived. All the jobs have been done – some have even had to be redone! But tomorrow we are set to go on our first voyage of the season, weather permitting.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment