Tuscan Reprise

After a few days of packing away and cleaning Mercier, ensuring she is ready for the Roman winter, we have landed in Florence, and our first night ashore in 2 months.

So we take the Eurostar from Rome Friday afternoon (travelling at up to 140 knots according to the GPS), find a lovely little B&B, travel outside Florence Centro Storico during the day and wander the streets at night.

Gondola – do you think he is lost?
Must be Florence

We found a room off the grand Piazza Del Signoria, the wonderful La Signoria di Firenze, seconds away from the energy and activity of the surrounding piazzas, mercatos and gelato bars. Friday night we went to Trattoria Nella, a restaurant we have enjoyed on our last trip, where we shared a 1kg T-bone steak, Florentine style. Later there was a jazz band playing outside the Palazzo Vecchio, with hundreds of people wandering around the Piazza enjoying the warm evening.

At breakfast the next day, we meet other guests and chat about where everyone is from and it turns out that two of the other guests are singing in a chorale in the Medici’s own parish church, the Basilica of San Lorenzo on Saturday night.

It brings us to what we can’t put into the blog, the sounds. We have been lucky that as we are rambling through the cobblestoned streets of Florence, we are surrounded by  sounds. Early in the morning and through the days we hear the bells of the Duomo pealing, later in the afternoon, a very Operatic young busker, is doing a rendition of Nessun Dorma that would not be out of place in the Opera House.

Last night we went to San Lorenzo and listened to sacred music sung by a choir at the high altar; both the music and acoustics were sublime. Not something we would usually indulge in but for an hour in Florence, it was a wonderful way to see the Church, in full song.

The Choir at San Lorenzo

Afterwards we wandered in the evening warmth, heat being released long after the sun had descended.  In a darkened alley of stone street below and stone building above, a haunting violin concerto being played by a statuesque woman followed us down the streets. The atmosphere in Florence at night is dramatic and engaging.

During the day, it is difficult to go more than a few steps in Florence before running into an umbrella lady leading a tour group, so we headed off for a little taste of Siena and San Gimignano. We realised we need more time to visit, but thought we would have a quick look and plan our return, as well as share the photos. Tuscany looks just like the description you have read in books or seen in the films. San Gimignano starred in the film, Tea with Mussolini, one of my favourite films.

Ah Siena
San Gimignano


Poseidon, Ponza and Palmarola

We had a lovely sail from Capri to Ischia and this time we tried to do bit more research on the Thermal pools. James spoke to the Captainerie and they gave us the name of two, but he thought Poseidon was much the better.  Anne and I couldn’t persuade the boys to join us, so we jumped in a cab and we were delivered to Poseidon, the Disneyland of thermal pools. Six azure blue pools starting at 28 degrees and then working up to 38 degrees with a 15 degree plunge pool, laid out in a garden setting.  If you are in the area you should find Poseidon, we were so relaxed, it was just beautiful. We thought of Ulysses and realised it wasn’t a seductress that would kidnap the weary sailors, they just couldn’t bear to leave the pool of Aphrodite or the silky warmth of the pool of Ariadne.

The next morning, after one of James’ famous omelettes, we motored over to Ponza. This volcanic island is another that caters to mainland Italians on holidays.

Ponza, where Romans go to holiday

We had a quick scout through the village and then jumped on a bus which took us over half the small island, vistas over cliffs to the Med, up terraced hills and all around incredible rock shapes, some like something out of a nightmare, craggy faces that could haunt your dreams.

A View from the Bus

Many of the beaches of Ponza are only accessible by water, so after unsuccessfully trying to walk through the Roman tunnels to Chiaiadiluna, a crescent shaped sand beach, we discovered the tunnel closed so we walked further up the hill to see if there was stair access, but it looked like there had been rockfall from the sheer cliffs  surrounding the beach. The beach was deserted and people were swimming off the back of their boats.

Arch at the Beach where we had a Swim

Anne and Cam decide to take the ferry back to Napoli, so we make our farewells and head over to Palmarola, another of the Pontine Island chain. We circumnavigate Ponza and then head west to Palmarola.

Chiaia di Luna

Arriving at Palmarola, which has a summer restaurant and a few holidays houses was akin to arriving first at Smiths Creek, when no other boats are there. Sunshine, blue water, BBQ is readied and the books are out, in place for those minutes right after your swim.  (nb: I don’t swim in Smith’s Creek but Shelley does, you get the jist. Also I would swim if I could see the bottom of Smiths Creek and I hadn’t seen that baby Hammerhead at Sharks Point).  The description of us would have been “relaxed, fully relaxed”.


We realised no longer had a reason to sail to Nettuno, that was to drop Cam and Anne over to the mainland, so we slept at anchor and motor sailed the 60 miles to Ostia on Sunday.

Now the hard part, clean and prepare the boat for the hard stand. Thus ends our sailing blog, but we will still keep in touch with the tourist portion of the trip. If you have any wonderful tips for “winterising the boat”, please send them.

Happy Birthday to Erin and Ed, see you both soon.

Sorry but had to Share this Sunset Photo


Procida, Capri And Il Faraglioni

Anne and Cam joined us in Ischia and we took a long and winding bus ride to San Angelo and the beach there. We thought there were also hot springs there, but later we found you had to jump into a water taxi to get to the hot springs. What we did find was just a nice beach after the long walk down the hill and the water was like silk and a perfect temperature. The showers afterward were bracing and cold and gave us the energy to walk back up to the bus stop.

The Road to San Angelo

We actually ended up off the main road and seem to be walking through passage ways between houses, built into the hillside.

Monday, we did a short trip over to the very unspoilt Procida. This is a very small island with very little concession made to tourists. We were in a wooden docked marina across the island from the largest town, at Chiaiolella, nothing near us but a few small basic cafes and a lovely beach. (Cam and Anne the water babies, say “what more do you need?)

James and I took the local bus over to Porto and if you can imagine a mini bus packed full of people hurtling through one and a half lane streets, no side walks at a breakneck speed.  Ah, I see you think the house are built back from the road, or that’s it one way – none of that.  At time you were looking straight into someone’s window and felt like you should say Sera! or you are holding your breath as we pass another car going the other way. You can’t see daylight between them. Suffice to say, Procida isn’t a panel’s beaters paradise because they just leave the dents in.  Cam and Anne saw one scooter had a the whole of the front fender held together with sticky tape.

Porto di Procida

Porto was a lovely place, a bit shabby on the paint job, but with vibrant lovely people and lovely shops selling gelato, watermelon and wine but not many tourist tacky items.

Tuesday found us going south to Capri. Capri wants you to email them for a berth, which we had done days prior but didn’t receive an answer until we were underway. Sadly, they said no they were full, so we knew we would be anchoring in Marina Piccola, in the south of the island.

This is the Blue Grotto!

We decided to go via the famed Blue Grotto, but there was a swell and a sea way, so we couldn’t take the dingy in.  On we motored to Marina Piccola and found a wonderful large bay surrounded by soaring limestone cliffs, a verdant garden of a town, stone ruins of a pathway leaping up the cliff face.

Marina Piccola, Capri

On the  south eastern side of the bay were Il Faraglioni, magnificent pillars of rock, which are often photographed and star in post cards, films and books.  They were majestic and we went over to see them close up and you see there is an arch in one of them. Staring up at them from the base, you realise their roots go all the way over to Sorrento, of which they and alll of Capri, were once attached.

Il Faraglioni

A westerly swell came in with 15 knot gusts of wind, so James and I stayed wiith the boat, while Cam & Anne went ashore. We would be so sad about this turn of events but we hope to be back next May and we will spend a few days in Capri.


Ischia sings a song

James and I have taken Italian 101 about 9 times and one of our teachers in Sydney was Giacomo, who came from Ishcia.  He told us while breaking into song in class that in Ischia everyone sings.


Approaching Ischia from Ventotene, we sailed past the northern part of the island.  From a distance, you could be looking at a Hawaiian Island, the same vision of lush green tropical foliage.  It is easy to pick out the Volcanic crater that created the island, you can see where, hundreds of years ago, part of the rim has been blown off. Approaching from sea, it is spectacular, because you see not only fertile Ischia, but Procida and in the distance the Italian mainland.

Porto Ischia is full, so we proceed to Casamicciola, moor the boat and head off to explore.


Casamicciola is fairly quiet in the afternoon, just a few shops open and this is partly due to the heat.  Italy has been having a heat wave and everyone is inside escaping the heat. Casamicciola is vibrant in the evening, with everyone out for their passeggiaata, buying gelato and wandering up and down the waterfront. But now we jump on a bus and head to Ischia the town.  This is a much busier but very touristy part of Ischia. Lots of shops and restaurants with photo menus and masses of day trippers who come over from Naples on the ferry. After trying on a few pairs of shoes, we headed over to the Castello Aragonese.

Castello Aragonese

Wikipedia tells us Castello Aragonese, the fortress initially built by the  Hiero of Syracuse in 474 BC on an islet rock near Ischia. In 1441 Alfonso V of Aragon connected the rock to the island with a stone bridge. We were particularly taken with the sight of Mount Vesuvius from the bridge.

We wander around laneways and waterfront, saving hills and stairs for Sunday. We had a wonderful dinner at Ristorante da Ciccio with the venerable Mr da Ciccio and the lovely Carlo bringing us wonderful food, with beautiful music and a peaceful ambience in busy Ischia.

Sunday morning, we headed off to Giardini La Mortella (Place of the Mrytles), this stunning garden was started in 1956 by English composer, William Walton and his wife Susana.  They purchased this land in a disused rock quarry and they collected specimens from all over the world to grow in this rich volcanic soil.


View from the Gardens

Nettuno & Isola Ventotene

Thursday afternoon, we braved the whirlpool entrance to Nettuno, with strong current running in, then out and with rocks to the south of us.  Once inside, the marina was comfortable and quiet, underneath an old walled village. There was such a nice breeze on the boat, we sat with a plate of chilled watermelon and spring water and just relaxed.  It is very warm here in Italy at the moment, at times we are melting.  Sailing and motor sailing are great, because we find the wind cool but on land it is hot.

Around six, we went up to the village and found a Bar – more like a Bakery with coffee and alcohol. Aperol and soda ordered, the girl comes out with a full tray of amuse bouche. Tiny little one bite morsels as well as olives and potato chips, some are pastry with tuna or ricotta cheese and others are bite size sandwiches. Sometimes you can’t fit in dinner when you have all of these taste treats.

This is the snack that came with 2 drinks in Nettuno

At Nettuno, we are circumspect and polish off the olives and go wandering into a newer part of town to provision. We discover fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs back to the boat and finally into town for dinner.
We take a different way into the old village and see some people staring at a wall, so we wandered over to see what they were looking at, it was an old fountain, possibly Roman or at least medieval and it was still gushing water at a great rate.
We went to Romolo’s for dinner, famous for their zuppa de pesce and it was so beautiful, we took a  photo.

Zuppa de Pesce

It was an early start the next day, as we had to cover about 50 miles, nice for us we had a lovely breeze on the stern quarter.  We arrived at Isola Ventotene, just in time for the start of a mini-regatta.  Boats ranged from 25 feet to 60 feet, all starting and finishing just off the nearby island of San Stefano. Magical venue for a Friday afternoon, anchored between the two islands to watch the race.

Winner of the Race

Eventually, we made our way into the marina and wandered around Ventotene, an island known to be a place of banishment for the Romans and later Mussolini used Ventotene to keep non-Fascists in one place. The small old harbour, was hewn out of rock, this bit of architecture was orchestrated by Agrippa, a right hand man to Cesar Augustus.  His wife, Julia had a summer house here.  Before they married she created a villa to entertain her paramours out of sight of her father, Cesar Augustus.

Going up to the VIllage

We climbed the steep stairs and strolled through the hill top village, enjoying piazza life. It seemed the whole village and day trippers were on the piazza, enjoying the cool breezes at the top of the island.

Nice Outlook for Dinner (we didn't eat here though)

Let the App be with you

One of the highlights of travelling with an iPad is the use of Google translate with the iPad being passed back and forth so your conversation can be read if they can’t understand your Italian.  This worked remarkably well with the Douane (Customs) in Imperia.

Vittorio Emanuele, Rome

Over the last few days we have downloaded Katie Parla’s Rome, an app about finding food in Rome.  Today we took it for a trial run.  We went to see a store, Spazio Sette, in a part of town we hadn’t been to.  It was quite a walk from the train station as we when we walked out, we typed in coffee and right around the corner was a wonderful traditional Italian coffee shop, Caffe Camerino. In the cool old traditional space, we enjoyed our Lattes.

A Glimpse into a Courtyard

We walked over the Tiber River to Trastevere and passed by a very old house with the name Dante’s house on a plaque.  We strolled on viewing very old working class neighbourhoods. Eventually, we jumped on the tram which took us back to Argentina, near our starting point.   We had typed in Creative and Ecletic for lunch and Parla’s app sent us to Roscioli at the Centro Storico (historic centre) for lunch.  The food was rich and perfectly cooked, Roscioli’s is a deli and wine bar and has tables so you can enjoy the food and wine right there. You might get the impression of  casual dining as it’s in the deli, but the  napkins and tablecloths were linen and the service was professional.

Roscioli's Deli and Restaurant

While we were waiting for our food, a very dapper gentleman came in and had a glass of wine, while he ordered and waited for his prociutto and burata to be packaged up. He watched as the prociutto was expertly and finely sliced.  Norton Street deli sales would go up phenomenally if you could have a glass of sangiovese while you waited.

We proceeded to Villa Farnese, thinking we would be going to a museum with perhaps a garden, so we could escape the heat.  It is now the French embassy, so we sat in the square and watched a lovely girl feed her bread to the pigeons; a very Roman scene.

Even without an App, it is easy to get a great cup of coffee, which you need to keep moving up and down these cobbled stone paved streets, shared with motorcycles that sound like a swarm of mosquitoes and dodging taxis. Just when we thought collapse was emminent, we found a perfect cafe and sat and people watched.  We tried to figure out were we were but we miscalculated, now it would be hard to find it again. Somewhere close to Parliment, we think.


Our Day Began in Ruins…

Let me apologise, a man about 6ft 4 inches tall made me write that.  Accurate though it may be it is also corny; still a glass of wine and a very relaxed attitude and that is what you get.

We have been in Ostia, a suburb of Rome for two days now, but Monday was taken with James visiting boat yards to see where we could leave Mercier for the winter. Sadly our time in the Med is coming to an end this year at the end of the month. Not to say there have not been entertaining moments, at the local bar (where we get our WiFi) they had a Salsa dancing class last night with 7 women and 4 men being coached (in separate groups – the womens work ups were much different to the men’s). Rene,you would have enjoyed joining in.

Tuesday morning, though we hopped into our little Fiat 500 and took the ring road to Hadrian’s Villa, near Tivoli. Hadrian, a Roman emperor ( 76 AD -138AD) , created it as a summer retreat circa 120 AD  and it took up more than 120 hectares.  It is about the same size as Pompei.


Model of villa Adriana - how they think it was

We will say there are beautiful mosaics, statuary and ponds at Hadrian’s Villa.

This part of Villa Adriana was featured on Kevin McLeod's Grand Tour series

We know Ed will be interested in the fact that they used a Lamborghini tractor.  We think it would look lovely at Noorong.  Did you know that Lamborghini actually started as a tractor manufacturer after WWII?

Genuine Lamborghini tractor

We had a hair raising ride around the ‘vincino” or vincinity of Tivoli.  Between Hadrian’s Villa and Villa D’Este, the Tomtom was trying to get us to take a dirt road.  James found disused tunnels, back roads and squeaked by with the millimeters to spare on one lane cobbled alleys and streets.  The 500 came out of the darkened tunnel; just in time to swerve out of the way of an open manhole.  I don’t think the car hire company would have believed we had been swallowed whole.

Finally a road sign, and we went up to find the car park on the other side of the hill and we were at Villa D’este and Tivoli. We had a wonderful lunch in a nearby Piazza, James had shoulder of lamb, slow cooked to perfection.  Order was restored to the universe.

Villa D’Este is amazing, think it is a very hot 30+ day and very still, but you find yourself at the top of the hill and zephyr breezes come through and then fountains everywhere, in a verdant garden with 20 shades of green, rushing, gurgling water and beautiful stone work . It really is Fountains R US with so many different fountains and has been featured on many TV shows – Burke’s Backyard springs to mind, but many others as well. Behind the main fountain there are small alcoves with fountains in the back, acting as early air conditioners, with the temperature much below the outside.

Villa D'Este's major fountain
16th Century air conditioned alcove

Originally built as a summer retreat for one of the popes, it has a grand residence with each room containing wall and ceiling murals,

One of the Ceiling Murals

then there are the gardens and fountains.

A Wall of Fountains
Water Everywhere

Sorry, but lots of photos here

Cruising the Tuscan Islands

On Thursday morning, we departed Porto Ferraio on Mercier to make our way to Porto Azzuro.  We almost feel guilty, once again stating the skies were a brilliant blue, the sun was shining, as we know it has been cold in Oz, but you will eventually see the photos anyway.

As Porto Azzurro came into view we saw the buildings were of every shade of gelato and there was a big fortress on the hill overlooking the harbour. As we entered, we were stopped by the Carabinieri in a motor launch.  He asked for our papers, listing what was necessary and handed out a fishing net so that James could drop in over water: insurance documents,  passports, boat registration and ownership papers and Jame’s Certificate for his ICC qualilfication.  We waited, staying close to their stern, until they handed us back all the documents again with the fish net over water a mere 90 metres deep.

Carabinieri examine our papers

We decided to anchor in the the harbour, so we could have a bbq in the evening. The bay is protected from three sides so it is a very comfortable anchorage, clean enough to swim and room for quite a few boats. We also had the added entertainment of a team rowing something like a surf boat around the harbour with a very vocal Cox, exhorting them to greater efforts. They were very practiced, each oar working inline with their teammates’.

Backstreet of Porto Azzuro

We took the tender into the town and wandered around, looking at buildings and shops, buying a few items for the BBQ and of course, enjoying a gelato.

mmmm Gelato

There is a great deal of pride taken all over Italy by local makers of artigianale gelato; some use honey and cream and flavours are quite diverse.  Gelato seems to be the reward we have for climbing stairs or taking a long walk or having a long sail. We took a photo of our Porto Azzurro’s gelato- scrumptious.

Our next stop was to be Isola del Giglio, an email from April, reminded us that the Costa Concordia would be there. We wondered if it was still there and if we would see it. Sadly you couldn’t miss it and sailing by you think of the 32 poor souls that weren’t expecting to perish, so close to shore on a pleasure cruise.


Costa Concordia
Note the rock still in the gash

As it turned out the harbour didn’t have room for us at Giglio, which was a pity because it looked really interesting from the sea, so we motored on to Isola di Giannutri, an almost empty island with an anchorage  surrounded on two sides by sea gull breeding grounds.  It wasn’t possible to eat on the stern, because we would have had to many uninvited guests.

Porto di Giglio

Now we are going back to the mainland of Italy. Ciao Bella

Isola d’ Elba

Tuesday morning finds us facing a westerly swell on our way to Elba, but it doesn’t last that long from shore and we have a pleasant sail for several hours. Before we are half way there we can see the Island Of Elba.  Famous for…that’s right:  Napoleon’s exile, his prison was a most beautiful island and he had lovely accommodation.  Elba only managed to keep Napoleon for a year but chances are if he was sent here now, he might not want to leave.

We sailed in to Citta di Portoferraio, with the yachts and super yachts tied to the old town’s harbour wall and looking at Darsena Medicea  or Cosimo Medici’s dock. The town is built on old fortifications & ramparts to protect from pirates and raiders.

Porto Ferraio

We have just landed when we hear an Aussie accent ask about the boat, a couple from the CYCA, came to ask about how we liked Mercier and what was good or bad. . It was great to hear an Aussie accent.

He purchased a Beneteau Sense 43 in Sydney – the one that was at the boat show.  He has had a few of the same small problems that Mercier has had.  What was different was that our friend, Simon, at Sunbird Yacht sales has had many of Mercier’s issues remedied and still has a list to be worked on.  These lovely people were fixing theirs themselves. So I am sending a big thank you to Simon, Eric and the great team in Palma. You are appreciated.

Judging by the frutta di mare seafood soup we had for dinner last night, the food is excellent and the café was in a little laneway away from the hustle of the waterfront.  Melbourne has nothing on Portoferraio, these are cobblestones lanes and very rustic houses, with planters of laurel and hydrangeas to take your eye away from the peeling paint.  After dinner, we walked back through the old buildings to a full moon over the harbour; it was as if the man in the moon was smiling down on us.

Full Moon over Porto Ferraio

This morning we jumped on a bus to visit Marciana Alta for lunch. We relished sitting in cool breezes at the highest point on Elba and also one of the oldest.  This is an old Pisan fortress. There was an initial disconnect as we reached Bar La Porta for lunch, BB king was playing and the blues played under these brilliant blue skies the entire time we were there. Made for a very mellow lunch after we got over our surprise.


View from Marciana

After lunch we got back on the bus to take the long way to Portoferraio.  The views were sensational and at times on the bus literally breathtaking. That was because we were so close to the edge of the cliffs and we could see the clarity of the water almost 300 meters straight down. I would have taken photos but it was a matter of white knuckles on the rail for most of the trip.

Livorno and road trips to Lucca and Pisa

Ciao Bellas,

After all the beauty of the Cinque Terre, we eventually made our way to our next port, Livorno. After the wonderful berth at Mirabello, Livorno was industrial, rough and mainly rocky and rolly. Every kind of ferry and cruise ship comes into Livorno, aka Leghorn, as well as fishermen and small boat pleasure craft. The marina staff were very nice but this would be a marina to miss, next time.

Livorno wasn’t without its excitement, shortly after we berthed another yacht came in without an engine. The neighboring yachts had crew trying to toss lines across but the exhausted owner was having trouble and it’s hard to give instruction or manage your line when you use your hands to make a point. The words and the hands were working triple time and finally …success and they managed to get the yacht in.  The instant replays began on the dock, thanks were given and bonhomie was enjoyed by all involved.

We were lucky, about 11:30 pm the wash stopped and we were able to sleep until about 5:00am the next day. We left and in a very short time landed at the beautiful fairly new Marina Cala de Medici. In a heartbeat, we secured the yacht and walkied 2 kms to the train station and we were on our way to Lucca.

Lucca Street

Lucca has seen people of the millenia, Etruscans, Romans, Lombards and is very famous for being enclosed in its medival wall.  There are several beautiful  Piazzas, narrow streets, lovely churches and two towers. We walked the up the 207 stairs of the watch tower, in a very narrow confine  on a very hot day.  You can tell who the view junkies are, they are the ones climbing up these hundreds of stairs.  Luckily for us, not only views but incredible breezes over the town made the trip up the pigeon infested bird tower worthwhile.

View from the Tower

Monday we went to the local Coop and provisioned for the next week on Mercier. Then we went back to catch the train into Pisa. The train schedule was different to the one posted online, so we had lunch at Rosignano, a piece of bruschetta each, four euros. Did we mention how cheap food is here?

The trains are mainly airconditioned, mainly on time and very comfortable but trying to work out the schedule seems to be beyond us.   Once in Pisa, we had read about the Red or Rosso bus which will take you to the Tower, Museums, Duomo in Miracolli Piazza. The buildings are beautiful and the area is small and 98.9% of tourists, all taking photos of each other holding the tower up. In groups or with their one finger, but every photo seems to be of the Leaning Tower, oh, except one.  In the Duomo, a lady of a certain age was doing a fully lean on the column tussled hair sexy pose, in the church.

The Icon
Piazza dei Miracoli

Today we are off to Elba – a Tuscan Island, we’ll talk more then.


James and Gaila


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