Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

199803 Greece Italy Sicily

SUNDAY 1 MARCH 1998 – Up and about early and into Athens on the bus for a 6-hour walking tour taking in all the major sites and areas.  Extend the tour by going up Livkados on the funicular and out the marble Olympic stadium. 8 hours later and with aching feet we catch a taxi back.  At least we’ve seen all that we had planned to see tomorrow as well.  Aromatherapy foot massages go down very well.  Meal at the local Chinese.
GLYFADDA 4
MONDAY 2 MARCH – Drive south to Cape Sounion and visit the Temple of Poseiden in a superb cliff top setting.  Proceed around the eastern coast of Attica to Parala Kakis Thelassas where we sunbathe for most of the afternoon.  There are a lot of Greeks here celebrating "clean Monday" bank holiday, the first day of lent.  Kites seem to be the order of the day with the Dads being left flying them whilst the kids play boules with Steve and John!
PARALIA KAKIS THAIASSAS – 55 MILES
TUESDAY 3 MARCH – Head north up the eastern Attica coast and stop at a lovely beach, just south of Rafina, for lunch and sunbathing.  Steve and John carry the table from the van to the beach heavily laden with wine, cheese, pate, saldas, pickled veg etc – a veritable feast.  Leave late afternoon and drive thorough Marathon from where the man ran 26 miles to Athens to warn of the invasion.  Drive over the marble dam on Lake Marathon and on to Krioneri.  Karen cooks a lovely meal of chilli pasta, it’s like being taken to a restaurant as it is so nice.  Here’s the recipe:-
1 tin tomatoes
 4 slices of bacon thinly chopped
1 large onion sliced.
4oz grated cheese.
1 teaspoon full of chilli powder.
Pasta shells. 
Put pasta on to cook.  Fry bacon until crisp then add onions.  When onions are soft stir in the chilli powder then add the tin of tomatoes and simmer away.  Once the pasta is cooked you drain it and stir in the sauce and then the cheese. 
KRIONERI – 64 MILES
WEDNESDAY 4 MARCH – Early start for our drive to Delphi.  Stop at Orhomenos to visit a tholos tomb but it is poor.  We get a bit lost in Livadhia where the market it filling the streets. On turning right at a junction we drive over one of a number of bags of potatoes on display in the road – oops.  At Delphi we check on to Camping Apollon, 5000Drs (£11) and sunbathe all afternoon.  In the evening we walk into town and meet an American gay called "Scott" who joins us for a drink.  We have a nice mixed meze meal at the local restaurant before catching a taxi back. 
DELPHI, CAMPING APOLLON – 110 MILES
THURSDAY 5 MARCH – Walk to the museum and site.  It’s a fantastic location and we think the ruins are second only to the acropolis.  The clear blue skies and sun make it all the more attractive.  The site and museum cost 1200Drs (£5.20) each but are well worth it.  The site is spread over two different areas and we spend ages looking around.  I particularly like it once I have bought a postcard depicting how it would have looked.  Return to the campsite to sunbathe and enjoy a BBQ in the evening.  John helps me a lot with the computer.  The bad news is that although the lead is now mended and I can use it from the mains it still won’t charge the battery. 
DELPHI, CAMPING APOLLON 2
FRIDAY 6 MARCH – Drive down to Corinth for Karen & John to visit the ruins.  No admission charge today as the site has been sprayed with pesticide and you enter at your own risk!  We all climb up to the fortress at Acrocorinth before driving back over the Corinth canal.  Find a super parking spot on the edge of Lake Vouliagmeni.  Over drinks and nibbles we decide on the evening meal which Karen, bless her, volunteers to cook. 
LAKE VOULIAGMENA – 156 MILES
SATURDAY 7 MARCH – Enjoy a cooked breakfast by the lakesie, a rather late on that we finish at 11am.  Lunch at the lakeshore fish restaurant with a huge sea bass being the highlight.  Back at the van we are quite surprised when a helicopter flies in and lands just behind us to enable the four passengers to go for a meal at the restaurant.  We have to force ourselves to pack up and head towards Athens.  Detour to the eastern end of the Corinth canal where we are atwater level.  The road bridge sinks to the bottom of the canal to allow a naval boat to pass through, quite something to see.  Heading east along the coast we come to a stop behind a queue of traffic by a level crossing.  No train shows up and eventually someone decides the signals are faulty and starts to cross.  A pedestrian stands in the middle of the track to reassure us!  We zig zag through the barriers as quickly as possible, not easy in a long motorhome.  Park by a small harbour at Pahi.  There are small parking lots, designed for 2 cars, with seats and flower beds all around. Perfect for motorhome parking.  Steve is over the moon to hear that Wolves have beaten Leeds 1-0 in the FA cup semi finals.  Although it is our last night with Karen and John and we have done very little today we are all shattered and after a quick stroll around the village we settle for a night in the van with snacks and booze. 
PAHI – 44 MILES
SUNDAY 8 MARCH – Early drive to Glyfadda and then bus into Athens.  The National Archaeological museum is huge and has quite a few very interestingitems.  Walk on to Keramikos, an ancient site and cemetery.  It’s a nice spot with tortoises roaming wild.  Meander through the street market snacking on gyros and ice cream.  Stop for a nice "people watching" lunch at a street restaurant on the junction of two busy pedestrian only streets.  Catch the bus back to Glyfadda.  The town is heaving with people and the van has been wedged betweeen two cars so a soon as one moves we head out to the airport.  The fligt is at 7pm so at 6pm we say our farewells and head out of town with just over 1/2 hours daylight for us to get parked up.  Now we hit all the day trippers trying to get back into Athens and progress is slow.  In Pireus there is a bigfootball match on at the stadium and police are diverting traffic.  We end up lost in the narrow back streets and keep being given wrong direcitons – the tension mounts.  The last straw comes when we finally make it onto the motorway to find the we have only one lane in our direction as the rest are contra flow to ease the traffic returning to Athens from the west coast.  Breathe a sigh of relief when we make it back to Pahi harbour.  This journey confirms our belief that driving at night is not a good idea and sign reading in the dark impossible.  Steve’s resolve to drink less, now that our visitors have gone, is instantly broken as he heads to the fridge for a beer to help him chill out – I head for the paracetamols. 
PAHI 2 – 78 MILES
MONDAY 9 MARCH – A big change in the weather as the sky is covered with clouds.  Try to make an early start getting the van back to "normal" but come unstuck in the bathroom.  To make room for our visitors we moved extra things into the wardrobe and crammed our clothes from 3 drawers into 2.  the bottome of the wardrobe has collapsed big time and also the drawers.  Steve does the best job he can but tomorrow we must spend time re distributing weight and finding some things to throw out.  Finally leave at noon and head to Ireon for our rendezvous withJo &Haan.  Our route takes us back past Lake Vougliamena, looking round the shore we can’t see them, and drive on to the point.  A walk down the cliffs takes us to the remains of the partially sunken ancient site of Heraion Mecan Gavi, scant but in a nice setting.  As we climb back up we hear Haan calling out to us.  They were parked further round the lake and we missed them.  The weather has picked up so we reutrn to the lakeshore and sit out chatting and drinking.
LAKE VOULIAGMENA – 39 MILES
TUESDAY 10 MARCH – Awful weather, rain rain and more rain.  Get up late and uncurl the awning to give us a dry area outside to do a few jobs but this in itself leads to a job as the awning also needs cleaning.  After a real pottering around day we retirre to Jo & Haans van and play Scrabble then teach them how to Farkle (a dice game).  WE leave at 11pm and it is now raining heavily and with a cold wind as well.  What a change from the 8 days of hot sunny weather with Karen & John, come back all is forgiven.
LAKE VOULIAGMENA 2
WEDNESDAY 11 MARCH – The rain is dying out but it is still windy and not the best weather for being by a lake.  Stop at the large A&B supermarket at Corinth where Steve gets chatting to an English couple, Keith & Kate, who were with Jo & Haan just a few days ago at Epidauros.  End up on the motorway by mistake and have to pay 1000Drs (£4.40) toll to Dhiakofto.  After our visitors I need to get the bedding washed.  In Grece you usually drop you laundry off and they wash and dry it for you and charge by the kilo of dry weight.  The launderette is closed until tomorrow so we park up and moments later the heavens open up. 
DHIAKOFTO – 72 MILES
THURSDAY 12 MARCH – Drive into town and park opposite the launderette for when it opens at 8am.  Meanwhile I get a hair cut 1700Drs (£3.70).  It takes 3 hours for our laundry to be done and once collected we head to Patras.  Book the MedLink ferry to Brindisi boarding at 6pm for the 8pm departure. 6480Drs (£14) pp plus 16200Drs (£35) for the van and 2000Drs (£4.40) tax per person and for the van, a total of 35,160Drs (£76).   With 6 hours to spare we fill up with LPG, water and diesel then head out to the Achaia Clause winery for a tour.  The palce is deserted but we are asked to wait for 10 minutes.  Another couple appear and we recognise them as the Australians who spoke to us at the acropolis in Athens and then again at Delphi – small world.  An hour later the tour commences with a spooky guide who speaks no English but points to a sign showing us some very modern wine vats and the 100 year old vats with fancy carvings.  Their famous wine is made from the blackest grapes and the sample very sweet so we just buy a couple of bottles of their cheap white.  Rebecca & Steve join us in the van for a drink and snack until 5.30pm.  Down at the port we meet Barry & Margaret from Huddersfield, long term travellers in an American RV with the identical Ford truck as ours.  We are booked on the same crossing.  Board at 7.30pm and we are the only two motorhomes to be "camping on board".  This means we are on an open deck with a sea view and electric hook up enabling us to use our motorhome during the crossing.  We get together with Barry & Margaret for a chat and their plans are very similar to ours, the most obvious differences being the speed of travel (they have already been in Europe for 3 years) and the fact that they already write article for magazines along the same lines as I had planeed to do so that gives me another excuse not to bother!  Set sail about an hour late on the calmest seas I have ever known. 
FERRY PIREUS TO BRINDISI – 48 MILES
FRIDAY 13 MARHC – It’s a great crossing and after amking use of the ships showers and clearning on board customs we disembeark at 11am Greek time, 10am local time in ITALY.  Arrage to meet up with "Rosie" (Barry & Margaret’s van) at a campsite tomorrow night.  We detour to Alberobello, a smal town with hundreds of "trulli (small houses with round spiral limstone roofs).  A lady invites us in and shows u that a home consists of a number of trulli around a courtyard, each one used as a different room.  We are very impressed with the whole place. Next stop Matera anothr "must" according to the Rough Guid.  The old "sassi" (cave dwellings) and churches are now abandoned following their deline 30 years ago to malaria infested squalor.  The previous occupants are now housed in horrible concrete blocks of flats.  We drive around but don’t feel comofortable enough to park anywhere.  Youth keep coming up to us offering to "park" the van or "guide" us round the sassi.  We are not at all happy with the situation and err on the side of caution and give it a miss.  This leaves us time to drive south along the underside of the boot of Italy to Camping Onda Zaaura by the beach at Coraglio Calabro (just on the hight instep!).  Fees 5,000 Itl pppn, 5,000ITL for the van inc electric giving a total of 15,000Itl night but this is reduced to 10,000 Itl night on stays of 14 nights or more.  Barry & Margaret have saved us a prime plot next to "Rosie" and on the sea front.  The 133 plot site is full bar one spot and with the price at £3.50 night for stays of over 14 nights we can understand why the Germans flock here.  We all comment on how "civilised" Italy seems after Greece, decent road sings in our normal alphabet, good roads, a recognisable language, toilets you can put paer down, plugs in the sink and shower hoses hung on the wall.  What seems odd is that after Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey we thought Greece seemed to be the more civilised place!  We are none too please to hear however that Greeece have today devalued the drachma by quite a substantial amount and we are no longer there to benefit.
CORIGLIANO CALBRO, CAMING ONDA AZZURA – 203 MILES
SATURDAY 14 MARCH – Quite a pleasant morning and I make use of the electric hook up to catch up on the computer and watch some videos.  Barry is very knowledgeable about our van so Steve tells him a few of our problems and they spend most of the day doing what they can.  We get together for an evening meal in our van at7pm and they stay until after 2am.  Good job it’s Sunday tomorrow and we can have a da of rest!
CORIGILIANO CALBRO 2
SUNDAY 15 MARCH – We have decided to stay for at least another day and this gives us chance to plan our route ahead a little better.  I think by the time we leave here we should be on top of all those little jobs tat we never find time to do.  Drinks and nibbles at Barry & Margaret’s in the evening – there is so much information we want to exchange that it looks like we may be staying for yet anotehr day.
CORIGILIANO CALBRO 3
MONDAY 16 MARCH – Sunny day but with wind and intermittent clouds.  Spend the day on site but we will make a determined effort to leave early tomorrow as Sicily and the south west coast of Italy are beconning.  Evening in our van playing Scrabble and Dominoes.
CORIGILIANO CALBRO 4
TUESDAY 17 MARCH – We do manage to leave, but our early start is actually 10am.  Drive down the
South western Calabrian coast and catch the ferry from Villa San Giovanni on the mainland to Mesinna on Sicily, 36,000 Itl one way.  On the way down the eastern coast of Sicily we make a side trip o the village of Savoca.  The wedding breakfast scene in he Godfather film was shot in the village’s bar Vitelli (a swift reminder of the Mafia’s presence on Sicily) and it is also a chance for us to visit our first catacomb, at the Cappuccini monastery.  What a spooky place – 200 to 300 year old bodies stood up in alcoves and dressed in 18c clothes.  Bits of the bodes have been wired back into place where decay has set in but most are remarkably intact and look like a cross betweeen Madame Tussauds dungeon and a visit to a Disney haunted house – except these are the real thing.  I think we were expecting bodies on shelves and certainly not to see them dressed and apparently watching you.  We are a bit too spooked to spend the night in the car park and although time is pressing on we reckon we can make Taormina.  We do get there but I did not realise from the map that the whole town is spread up a hillside with very narrow streets and virtually no parking.  Carry on above the town to the Castelmola but still can’t find a parking spot.  This necessitates us winding our way back through the town, now in darkness.   We heave a sign of relief to make it back down to the coast and to find a car park in the nearby village of Mazzaro.  We are joined shortly after by two Italian motorhomes. 
MAZZARO – 212 MILES
WEDNESDAY 18 MARCH – As luck would have it there is a bus stop in the car park and we take the 8am one up into Taormina, 2,000Itl.  .  This is a lovely old town with an ancient Greek theatre, 3,000Itl,  and nothing really outstanding but just a lot of nice buildings and a nice feel to it.  Walk down and stop on the way in the delightful Duke of Cesaro gardens.  An English noblewoman Florence Trevelyan had spectacular wooden towers with balconies built here to enable her to study the birds and these are scattered around the park.  The rest of the park is full of unusual plants and relics of the World Wars, a real find and it isn’t mentioned in any of the guide books.  Next port of call – the Gorges of Alcantara which are unusual in their rock formations but with very little water flowing through.  We intend to travel all the way round the base of Mount Etna before ascending it.  The first town Randazzo (also the nearest to the summit) is built of volcanic lava and came close to being ruined when following the 1981 eruption the lava flow stopped just outside the town.  Near Bronte town we stop to explore the huge local cemetery.  The tombs range from simple crosses to small chapels with space for up to t30 bodes in a type of filing cabinet system on the walls.  The big ones seem to belong to the very rich families (we guess probably Mafia money).  Wander round amazed at the statues on some of the graves.  Our route finally takes us up the southern slope of Mount Etna.  At first we see a few lava rocks then fields full of lava.  As we progress it is evident where building have been wiped out and the different colours of the rocks give an indication to the age of he relevant eruption.  The road has had to be rebuilt many times, the last eruption lasting through 1991 and 1992 was finally stalled by huge concrete blocks being dropped into the fissures.  Eruption is usually every 4 – 12 years and we can see rocks being spat out of the top right now.  Our parking spot is at the end of the regular road at 1,923 metres.  As the sun sets we see the craters change from red to orange, green and hen black like slag heaps as the last of the sun dies.  Steve has done a recce on the restaurant and brings in pizza for me and a cheese pie for him to go with the jacket potatoes and ratatouille left over from last night.  Steve gets the short straw as his pie turns out to be a sweet and not a savory one.  Reckon he is glad he didn’t put HP sauce on it.  The mist begins to descend and the temperature drops rapidly so we settle for a nice hot bath and an early night.
MOUNT ETNA – 70 MILES
THURSDAY 19 MARCH – I wake up freezing cold at 5am.  The thermostat needle, which goes down to 50F, can’t be seen and the double glazed windows are frozen on the inside.  Fortunately the blown air heats the van up quickly and I return to bed with a fresh hot water bottle. (I’m glad the 3am tour to see the sunrise from the top isn’t an option).  Our tour, 62,000Itl, leaves at 9.30am and takes us up in a special vehicle to 3,000 metres (the summit being at 3,323 metres).  Here we disembark and wrapped up well against the cold and with glasses to protect against the dust we walk towards the crater.  It is dangerous o climb too high but we get high enough to stand by some minor emissions of hot steam and to get a good view of the two major craters that are grumbling.  One of them can be seen to throw up rocks the size of footballs every few minutes.  Quite a strange experience to be stood on a partially snow covered lava field on the mountainside watching a volcano puffing away.  The view is splendid and we can just make out Cantania about 35km away, devastated when the 1669 lava flow flooded through the town and out into the harbour.  Down at 2.054 metres we take the gondola cable car back to the car park.  Descent towards Catania and drive along the coast to a campsite at Brucoli enabling us to make the most of the afternoon sunshine.
BRUCOLI, BAIA DEL SILENCIO – 48 MILES
Friday 20 March 1998  Drive South to Syracuse where we park near the Archaeological site.  A little different as there are three parts, an natural stone cut amphitheatre (the largest in Italy) a Necropolis with a waterfall and the area of an old quarry with an unusual cave.  The cave is called the ear of  Dionysius, an S shaped cavern where state prisoners were kept and because of the unusual acoustics Dionysius could hear from outside everything they were plotting.  A half  hour walk takes us to the old town of Ortygia via a bakery selling fresh pies and with a vino thrown in.  Archemedes lived here at one time. The main sites of interest are a spectacular fountain of Diana, The baroque cathedral (closed) and the Fountain of Artemis said to contain water from the Greek Peleponnese. It seems strange seeing all the Police driving round in Panda cars (Fiat  Pandas!). Back in the new town we visit some more catacombs but these are as we expected, long corridors with body storage areas hewn out of rocks and no corpses.  There is a new church in town dedicated to the weeping Madonna.  The ultra modern building is shaped like a teardrop following an incident in 1953 when a local family found their Madonna plaque shedding tears which it did for 5 days.  It became a place of pilgrimage and scientists never came up with an explanation. Drive out to Belvedere to see the ancient castle and park up by the stadium for the night.
BELVEDERE – 33 MILES
Saturday 21 March  A  short drive further South to Avola for a day relaxing and sunbathing on the beach followed rather surprisingly by some rain in the evening.
AVOLA – 22 MILES
Sunday 22 March  First stop Noto where there is a street full of Baroque buildings from the 1700’s that are now crumbling due to the pollution.  We spot some kind of a celebrity in the street with lots of discreet bodyguards hanging around but never manage to find out who he is, Steve reckons he is one of the Mafia.   We end up just West of Gela on the Southern Sicilian coast and park up at the back of some sand dunes ever hopeful of sunbathing weather tomorrow.  We are travelling much faster than we would like but the weather is now pushing us along.
W of GELA – 112 MILES
Monday 23 March  We potter around until noon, Steve the eternal optimist waiting for the clouds to blow away.  First stop North is a small village called Caltagirone and famous for ceramics.  There are 142 steps up to the Scala and the front of each row is decorated with a different design tile.  The walls by the bridge and park are also very attractively tiled. Pushing on North West we reach Piazza Armerina and at last find something to amaze us.  The Villa Imperiale 4c BC was covered by a landslide and only found in the 50’s.  Someone has ingeniously decided to preserve the floor mosaics by building a perspex dome over the area  in the size and shape of the original building.  This really gives you a sense of the layout and vastness of it all.  We have never before seen such beautiful floor mosaics, most of them complete and some huge ones telling stories e.g. the 60 metre long hunting scene.  We are so impressed we do the tour circuit twice and take far too many photos and videos.  Back at the car park it is starting to get dark & we spot two people looking intently at our van.  They turn out to be Germans Klaus & Anna also in a camper and debating whether to stay the night.  We agree that together we are much safer.  Shortly after dusk we are joined by two French motorhomes.  Klaus & Anna come in for a drink & chat and I am presented with a gift of one of his pottery vases.  He is a potter and she is an artist and they insist that when we pass through Germany we must visit and stay in their house and take a bath etc – no she’s not inferring we smell but understands that wallowing in a bath is one of the things you miss in long term travel.
PIAZZA ARMERINA – 52 MILES
Tuesday 24 March  It’s cold and raining heavily so we decide we might as well press on with the sites in the hope that we can catch up on sunbathing later.  The novelty of just crashing out on a beach still hasn’t worn off and we are getting a bit depressed with the recent bad weather.  Drive S.W. to Agrigento to walk through the Valley of the Temples.  It is pouring down when we arrive and we need water before we park up.  Steve insists on keeping the tank very low when we are travelling up and down hills, so much so that we had to use bottled water last night.  I am very much against this idea as despite the slightly lower m.p.g. I like to be able to shower etc whenever I want.  We drive around the town and Steve gets soaked stopping at garages and trying to find water.  At first we buy Diesel at each one but as the tank fills we have to just ask for water.  The annoying thing is that they tell you they have it and then either change their minds and say it is undrinkable, don’t have the right hose connection, don’t have enough or at the last one run out when we have only just 1/3 tank full.  Tempers start to fray and we park up and sit in silence reading.  The rain stops and the weather brightens up and so do our moods.  Our walk starts at  the 5c BC Temple of Juno with 25 columns and at the Eastern and highest point of the valley  Next the magnificent Concorde with all 34 columns standing then  Hercules the oldest and with only 8 columns.  Over the road to Zeus the largest temple ever built but not completed and with a fallen support statue still to be seen, finally Castor & Pollux  and a sanctuary with many alters and mini temples.  An extraordinary setting and unusual in the amount of temples so close together.  We stay on the car park near the site overnight and the weather deteriorates to thunder and lightening and we don’t have enough water to wallow in the mini bath tub but at least we are nice and warm and cosy.
AGRIGENTO – 80 MILES
Wednesday 25 March  Much brighter morning and once again we dither over whether to head for  the coast or up through the country to Palermo.  Just setting out late morning and we see an English motorhome coming our way.  We do an about turn and stop for a chat and coffee.  Ian and Irene are travelling for a couple of months and at the end of last week were on a site with Barry & Margaret whom we left in Corigliano Calabrio. Exchange information and leave early afternoon for Palermo.  Notorious for being dangerous we have been warned repeatedly not to go near the town centre in the van and to be extremely cautious with our bags and cameras when we go in o n the bus.  We manage to get around the rings road despite the horrendous traffic and head out to Monreale  The  cathedral is closed until 3.30pm so we stop in a bar and I enjoy and enormous house special pizza with loads of ham, mushrooms, cheese, sausage, spinach and tomatoes, Steve has the spinach cannelloni and for once regrets his choice as he decides mine is much better even though he doesn’t normally like pizza.  The church interior is magnificent with gold mosaics covering all the walls and showing the most popular bible stories.  Noah’s ark is particularly good.  The church is dark when you enter and you have to pay 1000 lire to light an area for 60 seconds.  We rush around after the tour groups and get to see all the areas gratis and manage to earwig on some English commentary.  Up on the roof we get a splendid view of the cloisters and should have a good view of Palermo but not when it is misty, raining and the wind is freezing.  Once again we negotiate our way around Palermo to a campsite just NW of the city at Sferracavallo.  The site is by the sea and as we pull up we notice how much the wind has got up and  how the waves are crashing in and onto the road.  Try to find a spot as sheltered as possible but still find the night is the most windy we have ever encountered.
SFERRACAVALLO nr PALERMO – 105 MILES
Thursday 26 March   We had planned to go into Palermo today to see the sights but wake up feeling tired and although it is fine it is still windy.  I edit the video and write up my diaries.  We may go into Palermo later today and also tomorrow morning.  The bus fare is  cheap at £1,500 (£ is also the sign for lire) 50p and that gives us 1 hour of travel on public transport.  In Italy there are no free days to museums but admission is almost always only £4,000  (£1.40) and so it’s no problem.  I’m sure the prices in Rome will be somewhat higher.  Since arriving here last week the lire has gone up from £2,900 to £3,000 to the pound.  We have been very lucky with the exchange rates since leaving England – in fact a glance at my old diary tells me we were in Portugal this time last year in the Solifer.  England is the only country we have been in where Diesel is not substantially cheaper than ordinary petrol, we are paying around 50p a litre here.  After a nice hot shower we decided to head into town and catch the 11.30 bus.  After one change we arrive at Piazza Verdi, Steve with the wallet and camera stashed in his inside coat pockets and me with the video hung around my neck under my coat and looking strangely fat or pregnant. Our walking tour takes us to Quattro Canti (the four corners) the busiest traffic square in town reflected in the fancy but blackened curved columns of statues and fountains on each corner.  Piazza Bellini has a beautiful fountain with loads of statues and different animal heads.  The church of San Cataldo has pretty domes outside and is bare inside, La Martorana is plain outside and absolutely fantastic inside – painted ceilings, fancy carvings, mosaics and a diamond studded mosaic panel picture.  Moving on along Corso Vittorio Emanuelle the effects of pollution on the old building is sadly evident but our first glimpse of Palermo cathedral is rewarding as it has been sandblasted.  Our timing is bad again and both the Cattedrale and Palazzo dei Normanni are closed until 3.00. We are finding this Italian custom of afternoon closures very frustrating but like yesterday I’m sure the man in the cafe approves.  Steve tries and enjoys a local fast food delicacy,  sesame seed bun with slices of warm beef, liver and a dollop of grated cheese.  The book says "for real attention-grabbing stuff " take a short bus journey  to the catacombs at the Convent of Cappuccini.  A combination of the  types we have previously seen – a maze of underground passages but with around 8000 dressed corpses  Sorted into areas by sex and status they are suspended in individual niches with vile contorted grinning faces and in various states of decomposure.  A two year old girl who died in 1920 has skin and hair following a series of embalming injections.  The American Viceroy is prominently displayed alongside a man of unusual body proportions.  Like the house of horrors and quite haunting.  Back at the palace we visit the Cappella Palatine – private chapel of Roger 2nd (a miniature version of Monreale), nip into the cathedral and then walk through the narrow alleyways of  the oldest district Capo.  The streets are full of market stalls gathered by trade.  We buy a nice piece of steak from a butcher and a few other bits and pieces.  Nip into Sant’ Agostino church as a service is in progress.  There are many people bobbing in and out, bringing an odd flower to deposit in front of a picture and seemingly just  wandering around.  We are surprised at how many young people there are.  Back on the bus for a nice meal of the steak cooked in a red wine sauce, chips and peas. (I will rephrase that, bus back to campsite and meal in our motorhome).  Fester the rest of the evening watching videos which leaves us with a problem.  The colour on the TV has been none too good and it was suggested we ran it from 12volts as the electricity would constantly recharge the battery.  This has not proved the case and we now have a flat leisure battery that we can’t seem to charge properly.  It has been playing up for some time but this is the last straw and I can just foresee the fun trying to buy a special deep cycle battery on the strength of our Italian.
SFERRACAVALLO 2
Friday 27 March    A short drive along the Northern Sicilian coast takes us to Cefalu where we park at the harbour.  Make a note of the time and wait until 3.00pm before setting out to view the cathedral and other sights.  Nice beach with a lot of windsurfers but too cold for us.  Franz & Margret motorhomers from Germany join us on the car park and we combine a meal as the restaurant nearby isn’t open.  They provide salad and drinks and I make Chilli Pasta to the recipe Karen cooked for us.
CEFALU – 54 MILES
Saturday 28 March  Just 29 miles further along the coast we feel the urge to stop and enjoy the greatly improved weather.  Park by the sea and sit and sunbathe at Marina Di Coroni.
MARINA DI CORONI – 29 MILES
Sunday 29 March    Fortunately we were warned a few days ago by Irene and Ian that the clocks move forward.  This is very good for us as we now have daylight until about 7.30pm but it didn’t help with us getting up this morning! Some motorway driving to avoid the high mountains and a couple of hours later we are at Milazzo.  We have come to check out the ferries to the volcanic chain of the Aeolian Islands but all the agents are closed.  Decide to drive out to the Cape but get stuck in a huge traffic jam waiting for a procession to walk through town.  Brief visit to enjoy the view from the Cape and then to a nice quiet parking spot by the football stadium at the back of the beach.  We have the place to ourselves to spread out and sunbathe until cars start to appear.  By 4.00pm there are over 100 cars parked by us and loads more around the stadium as people arrive to watch the football match.  At one point the ball comes over to the beach and when Steve returns it he is dragged in to watch the match.  Think he is the only spectator in beachwear but at least he has shorts and not trunks on.
MILAZZO – 68 MILES
Monday 30 March  By 11.00pm we have parked the van in a secure compound and are aboard a ferry to Stromboli , very reasonable at £16,500 (less than £6) each. It takes twice as long as the hydrofoil but costs half the price.  An hour late in leaving 12.00pm  Steve suggests that no one told them the clocks went forward yesterday.  We arrive complete with rucksacks at Stromboli dock around 3.00pm and take a walk following our check in at Pensione Stella.   The beaches are very strange being of black volcanic sand and with coves between lava flow rocks that have petrified on hitting the sea.  We want to walk to the crater but it is not allowed without a guide and out of season he wants £300,000 (£100+) to take us so opt for a hike alone to the safe halfway point.  Last year two people died  attempting the climb alone – a Spaniard fell into the crater and another tourist down a ravine.  Return to our room to prepare for our hike and leave at 6.00pm.  An hour later we arrive at the combined observation point and restaurant and enjoy the view of the smoke coming out of the crater.  As darkness descends the smoke becomes a red glow and we are lucky enough to see some spectacular eruptions.  Flames shoot out 30 metres high and the rocks can be seen glowing as they roll down the mountainside.  The big bursts come complete with a very  loud booming noise.  The restaurant owner says it is particularly spectacular tonight.  Pizza, Spaghetti and a couple of jugs of wine complete the experience.  We spot torches coming down the mountain and shortly after are joined by Barry & Jill (from Wolverhampton!) with 2 year old Matthew in a back pack.  They climbed to the top in the afternoon but realised it would be too dangerous to climb down in the dark and agree that we are in the best viewing spot. Once Steve and Barry are convinced they have caught a good explosion on camera we descend back to the village together.  Barry tells us that the ferries had to be cancelled last week due to the bad weather and people were stranded on Stromboli for a week.  He is a volcano fanatic and says Stromboli is particularly active now because of the recent earthquakes and also tells us we must climb up to and above the volcano on Vulcano Island where we are going tomorrow.
STROMBOLI – 2 MILES
Tuesday 31 March    I have a lousy nights sleep due to block sinuses and am only too glad to get up at 6.30 to catch the 7.15 hydrofoil (£25,000) to Vulcano.  First stop a little further round Stromboli is for the people of Ginostra.  It is the smallest port in the world and the passengers have to be ferried to us on a small boat and climb aboard out at sea.  We call at Panarea next and whilst waiting for people boarding spot a school of dolphins behind a fishing boat.  There seem to be about half a dozen of them jumping in and out of the water but unfortunately they don’t follow us.  Arrive on Vulcano just before 9.00am and immediately smell the sulphur in the air.  The "Gran Crater" at 1290 feet has numerous fumeroles pumping out sulphuric gases and  that is where we are heading.  Dump our bags at the ferry office and follow the crater signs.  The first part of the climb is through green vegetation followed by a band of black volcanic dust.  The third tier is red solidified clay and we walk along the fissures.  Boulders of lava are scattered around although there has been no major eruption since 1890.  Above the clay we realise there is another peak beyond which the smoke is rising.  An hour after the start we are being gassed in the extreme and have to walk through the smoke to complete a circuit of the rim.  An absolutely fantastic site but smelling worse than one of David Spooner’s ….. we walk as quickly as is possible when ploughing uphill through lava sand.  The fumeroles are really warm and the earth nearby is stained bright yellow.  Looking down into the crater you can see lots of bands of different coloured rock and just a flat area at the bottom with the fumeroles all on one side.  Spectacular views over the rest of Vulcano and the other nearby islands.  A much quicker walk down as we skip part of the path and half walk and half skate down a sandy fissure.  Along the coast at Porto di Levante we cut through a curiously shaped rock to the beach.  The rock is a remnant of an old volcano and riddled with caves for the extraction of alum but the colours are once again magnificent.  Signs warn us we are entering a radioactive area.  We arrive at the sulphurous mud baths adjacent to the black sandy beach with hot springs bubbling up in the sea.  First a dip in the sea for the natural Jacuzzi and then into the hot mud bath.  A thick covering of mud makes us look ridiculous but we are assured that if we leave it to dry before washing it off we will feel the benefit.  (No further details given as to the benefit of slopping radioactive mud on you but we are game for anything.)  We spend about 4 hours between mudbathing, Jacuzzi bathing and sunbathing before making a final attempt to clean up before dressing.  Easier said than done as no matter how much we try to get rid of the mud in the sea it reappears as it dries and we still smell of sulphur.  We sit on the boat hoping people realise where we have been and don’t think we have both got bad cases of wind.   Arrive back in Milazzo 90 minutes later just before 6.00pm.  We are allowed to stay overnight on the car park and have to make full use of  the shower which has been thoughtfully provided.  A day of rest is planned for tomorrow as we are both cream crackered
MILAZZO
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