Thursday, 28 August 2014

TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 9 - MESSINA TO CASTEL DEL MONTE




Sicily was wonderful and the memory of it will live with us for a very long. In addition, we identified a few places that would be worthy of a week or fortnight's holiday should we ever make a return visit. After getting off the ferry from Messina to Villa San Giovanni on the mainland, we faced a very long drive around the sole and heel of Italy's boot. I'd heard a lot about the trulli town of Alberobello and determined that we shouldn't miss it out but we were a long way from getting there.

We pulled into the Campeggio Doccica at Palizzi Marina. We needed food and so drove into the main town of Palizzi to find a supermarket but we ended up getting a takeaway which consisted of a hotdog sausage baked within a bread roll and a couple of arancini but it was all cold by the time we got them back to camp for our supper. There were lots of young people about doing their hair, looking very dressed up, and we realised later that the camp site was holding a birthday party for someone. There were older people and families on the site too and they all seemed to know each other. We felt a bit isolated but at least we could understand the music that blared out until 1am. It was all English and American and included tracks played by Santana and Queen.

The next day we packed up to leave but when we went to pay for the pitch, there was a delay as the person who takes the money wasn't around. Instead we were invited to play a game of table football with an Italian man and his son. Suffice to say, just like the England team in the World Cup, we got whupped but it was an entertaining way of hanging around.

We took the coast road and went through lots of little seaside towns which were the same in character as any seaside town you find in Britain. Rubber dinghies, rubber rings and surf boards hung outside little shops that also had flip flops, sea shoes and postcards for sale. We eventually managed to find a better road that moved a bit faster and drove for miles across a country landscape on one side with the sea on our right. As long as we could see the ocean, we knew we were heading in the right direction. We weren't entirely sure of where we were going next but we headed for Taranto which sits right at the top part of the inside of the heel.

The Calabrian countryside was littered with fires burning in the distance. It was very dry and barren but quite lovely and the sea was azure blue. This beautiful scenery was contrasted with old rusty industrial relics, big factories and lots of half built apartment blocks and hotels. We didn't know whether work was abandoned due to the economic crash Italy has endured, or workers were on a rest day or siesta, but clearly there are some moves to develop the area's tourism and expand some of these little seaside places in an area where few foreigners go.

We were racing back to the north and we didn't stop to do any sightseeing. We'd spent more than half the budget but we still had the whole east side of the leg and the heel to explore so we decided to play safe and be selective about where we visited. We'd accepted that we'd already seen a lot and we'd never see every city, town, village, hamlet or tourist attraction in the country.

We drove all day and ended up pulling into the Pineta camping village because it simply got too hot to drive anymore. We endured a night of bad karaoke coming from somewhere nearby but it wasn't a big problem for me because I'd got myself some earplugs.

After that we drove past Taranto and then pulled over to decide where we'd go next. Ideally, we wanted to drive around the whole heel but this would add extra cost to the petrol so we went for Lecce - the town right in the middle of the heel - instead.







To save money, we'd started pulling over at picnic stops, taking out the camping cooker and making our own tea. At Lecce there was a big car park right near to the historic attractions so before we went to have a look around, we had a cuppa first. There were many camper vans there which could stay overnight. This type of trip is more cost efficient in one of those because you can pretty much pull up anywhere safely on the roadside for free and at special park ups in towns for a small parking fee.

We had a good couple of hours in this ancient town and then set off towards Ostuni and Alberobello via Brindisi. The road signs were not very clear on that stretch of road and having seen none for Ostuni, which was on the map before the trulli town, we wondered if we had somehow missed it because we couldn't work out where we were. We came off the road to retrace our steps backwards via the coast road but soon worked out that wouldn't help.

We really thought that we missed it and as time was getting on, we pulled into a camp site called the Meditur Village which was a bit like a hotel for campers. The reception was marble, very posh and very, very cool as the air conditioning made it feel like the sort of cold summer day we get at home. My other half wished he could put the tent in there but the pitch we got was very good. We had no idea where we were and so had to ask. The staffer who took us to our pitch pointed on our map to Specchiolla. We asked if we were far from Ostuni. It was just 20 km ahead of where we were were. It was great to know that we were still on the right track. There was a great supermarket on the site and unlike the many others we had seen on camp sites during our travels, this one actually sold more than a few Italian delicacies, wine, dried food and bread which always sold out quickly. My other half got some cornflakes and real milk and I got some bacon and eggs. We had a breakfast fit for kings the next morning and felt good as we hit the road again.

I'd noticed my husband scratching his ankle a lot as we drove on the road to Lecce and then I saw a huge ant that must have got into the car with us when we packed up that morning. We both already had something like 30 mosquito bites each but now we were covered in ant bites on our legs that itched like mad during the night. The treatment cream we'd bought from home helped a lot but it was almost gone. The Meditur camp site shop also sold packs of treatment and repellent wipes which were great, really soothing.









Ostuni is known as the White City and they worked hard to keep it that way. We saw an old woman scrubbing her white steps as we wandered down some of the narrow passageways and up stepped streets.

We could have hung around there for a while but we had to move on and I really looked forward to getting to Alberobello. My husband liked to browse in estate agent shop windows everywhere we went. In Ostuni there were quite a few trullis for sale and often for less than our little bungalow at home is worth. I guess if I decided to move out there and buy one in retirement then they'll be a lot more expensive as they call Puglia the new "Chiantishire" because of it's current fascination with British tourists who are snapping up cheap properties for renovation, holiday homes and to live in.

Alberobello isn't far from Ostuni so we drove straight there arter leaving the White City and headed for a camp site mentioned in my camping guide book but again we lost the sign and ended up elsewhere. We stayed at the Bosco Selva site which was very spacious and not too packed out. There weren't many travellers there when we arrived and of those who stayed, they seemed to be mainly foreigners. Our neighbours were French. I wanted to stay another day because I loved the site and the area but we'd already decided to stay one night at different camp sites on our journey back north.

The owner gave us a map of the UNESCO world heritage site and said it was not too far and easily reached by walking. This was good news. The car was a blessing and a curse. It was great for getting us to places we wouldn't normally be able to reach via public transport but it was a pain sometimes to try and find parking and then find the car again after we'd left it somewhere. The walk, however, seemed to take a long time and we reckon it was more than a km as the owner had said.



The town itself is very charming but very busy with tourists getting underfoot everywhere you went - says a hypocritical tourist who probably got under the feet of others. We visited the Trullo Sovrano which is a small museum giving something of the atmosphere of trullo life, with sweet, rounded rooms that include a re-created bakery, bedroom and kitchen. The entry price of one euro and 50 cents made it the cheapest museum that we visited and it was well worth the money.

I took some pictures and again those pesky tourists got in the way as I tried to get shots of the inside, but not always and I sometimes had a clear shot.







It was a very hot night and after we walked back to our tent, we sat in the light of our small lamp drinking tea and looking at the map trying to decide where we should go next. The Castel Del Monte wasn't far and and I wanted to see it as I thought Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose literary medieval crime novel was set there because of it's eight sides.

I wasn't greatly impressed when I saw it, and it didn't take very long to look around, but the countryside around Andria, it's closest town, was stunning. At one point it felt like we'd taken a trip back in time when a goat herder, who looked for the world that he'd just stepped out of a 19th century hillside, skillfully stopped his animals from crossing at a roundabout we were going through. I'll write more about that tomorrow and the women on the Foggia to Pescara road as I promised. I think this series, that I initially only intended to be a couple of posts, is almost at an end as our sightseeing trip became even more of a road trip race up north as our budget depleted.



Wednesday, 27 August 2014

TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 8 - TRAPANI TO MESSINA




We left Trapani and headed for Palermo but we weren't looking forward to driving through it. I also wanted to get to Corleone if possible. Palermo was hectic and so we decided to keep on driving straight through it. Traffic came from all directions and the motorway merged with the road that went through the city. We saw the turn off to Corleone but we'd have had to cross two lanes of traffic to get to it and neither of us fancied that much.

In the event, we decided to forget it and keep on towards Cefalú which is a fashionable beach town but, apparently, not over-developed with tourism. The camp site in my camping guide was easy to find but there was a problem. Cars were not allowed on the site because they lock the gates at 11pm, and we couldn't take our car to camp with our tent so we left to find somewhere else to pitch up. Our tent was just big enough to sleep in so the car was the suitcase, wardrobe, kitchen cupboard and the storeroom so we couldn't do without it.

We didn't drive very far from Cefalú when we came across the Rais Gerbi down the road at Finale di Pollina. The sites we liked the best during our trip weren't in my camping guide book and this was another little gem that didn't get a mention.

There were shaded terraces for the tents, which were cool and near steps that led down to the sea. We both loved the funky-looking white bungalows pictured above. If we ever make it back there then we might stay in one. They did look very inviting. The campsite was family run by a very friendly group of people. We had a swim in the sea but we didn't stay in long before heading to the bar near to the reception. As we sat in the heat, the owner stopped to chat with us and asked why we weren't down on the beach keeping cool in the sea. We explained that since the jelly fish sting we'd been wary. He told us that they can kill but, of course, this far down south the sea was "entirely safe."

By now, we'd gone from taking a leisurely drive along the coast, staying a few days at a site to see the area around, to a race to get off Sicily and back to the mainland. This was now, effectively, the start of our journey home even though we were still a long way from getting there. There wasn't much else we wanted to see on the island, after missing out both Palermo and Corleone, so we headed straight for Messina and the ferry.

Because we'd gone from camp to camp, and stayed just one night at each place, we hadn't done any washing for a few days. My other half's T shirts were a bit grufty but it was so hot, he decided not to wear one until the next camp when we could get it done.

The temperature was at least 39 degrees so it was with some relief that we stopped at a service station at Acquadolce for a drink and a refresher and to stretch our legs. I really wanted a cup of tea but getting a good one in Italy was always difficult. We did take a big box of Yorkshire Teabags with us but that ran out at Letojanni and since then we'd been buying whatever we could get our hands on but it was in danger of busting our budget at the extra cost of almost £4 euros every other day for a box of 25 Twinings. We're both fussy teapots and the tea has to be good. We tried the slightly cheaper Star brand but it was awful and the lesser expensive Liptons which was a bit better but still didn't give us the hit we needed that only comes from a nice cuppa with plenty of strength.

At various service station stops, I managed to get a decent brew. If they put too much milk in then I'd just get a black cup of tea and mix them, or I'd ask for black tea and then put milk in myself afterwards. My other half long gave up trying and had chosen coke as his drink of choice when on the road. I asked for an English tea at Acquadolce but the abrupt barman said no. "verde e limone" (green and lemon tea) was all they had so I declined and went for water which I don't find as refreshing. Tea lovers know for a fact that tea cools you down when it's hot and warms you up when it's cold. Water is just boring and it warmed too quickly in the heat.

As we pulled in, we noticed a police car parking up. After our drink, we prepared to leave. I made for the toilets and he went to the car. When I came out, the police were walking away from my husband who was putting on his least grufty T shirt that he'd dug out of the washing bag.

"I just got told off and told to put my shirt on by the police," he said.

The officers had approached him and in my absence he had absolutely no idea what they were trying to tell him. One pointed to his shirt and my husband thought he was just showing him his badge. "Very nice." he said, still bare-chested. The other police officer frowned, pointed to his chest and said "shirt - you - shirt."

The penny then dropped and he realised what they were trying to tell him. Perhaps they didn't like his tattoos, or perhaps it's thought to be indecent that men don't wear shirts in public although we'd seen plenty of bare-chested men on beaches and in beach towns so we weren't sure. He did as he was told anyway. Neither of us wanted to fall foul of the law in Italy.

We made it to Messina in good time but finding the embarkation point we needed was another round of madness, reversing, and doing U turns in the road. He'd long since dropped his English attitude to driving. Kids washed the car windscreen whenever we stopped at traffic lights and it got a bit annoying because one after the other, they wanted to be paid. We eventually got to the dock and began to drive down the traffic lane for boarding. My husband stopped and waited when I said that maybe we should check with the ticket office nearby before we got too far into the lane to go back just in case we were in the wrong place because we had a return ticket and couldn't travel with any other ferry company than the one we'd booked with.

As I feared, our tickets weren't valid there and we needed to get out and find the ferry we'd sailed in on. Unfortunately, cars were now starting to come in behind our car so we couldn't get out. He drove over the metal lumps that divided the lanes but didn't tell me until much later, when we were nearly home in fact, that the metal had ripped a chuck out of the car tyre that already had a nail in it and, like the other front tyre, cracked rubber.

We came off the ferry on the mainland at Villa San Giovanni. We didn't know where we wanted to go after that but we followed the boot round the sole and headed for Puglia which has become the new favoutite of the English and I can see why. I loved it.

More to come in tomorrow's blog post about Ostuni, Alberobello, women who line the road between Foggia and Pescara, and the contrasts we found between old Italy and modern Italy living side by side.


Monday, 25 August 2014

TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 7 - AGRIGENTO TO TRAPANI




We left Punta Secca and headed for Agrigento via a coastal road. We wanted to see the ruins and have a quick look at nearby Porto Empodocle, the town that the fictional "Vigata" in author Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano series is based. I also fancied seeing the town made famous by the Godfather films, Corleone, if at some point we could get to it easily. It was inland and not on our route around the island. We might have made it from Palermo but we'd have to see. We were both really apprehensive of driving through Sicily's capital city when the time inevitably came, although we both wanted to see it.

The parched Sicilian countryside was stunning. I could imagine Michael Corleone walking across that vast unspoiled rustic landscape. The occasional old derelict stone buildings crumbled on top of hillsides. Remote, off the beaten track, country back roads we used were perfect to get a feel of old Sicily but they also seemed to be the sort of places that people took rubbish. We came across bin bags, tattered shoes and clothing, domestic appliances, and an old sofa and mattress dumped on the roadside.

It was very hot again so we thought that was probably why we could see fires in the distance. In some places the dry grass on the roadside verge was burning. We saw smoke often as we drove along. Sometime flames spread across whole fields, getting perilously close to farmhouses, and sometimes just small burning patches of dry grass. We surmised that they were probably a mixture of spontaneous fires from the dry heat, and stubble burning by farmers which still went on in the south.

The Greek Temple ruins dominated the landscape on the approach to Agrigento. We pitched at Camping Nettuno and then went sightseeing. It was a long afternoon of walking around in the heat but the ruins were worth seeing up close. There were lots of fossilised shells embedded in the rocks and I later learned it was because the ruins sit on a high ledge that was once at sea level.



We paid 10 Euros each to get in but that didn't include entrance to other features on the site such as the villa built by Englishman Captain Alexander Hardcastle who was the first to begin major excavation and restoration of the now famous site. In fairness, an extra entry fee of just one euro each was the price to have a look around that but we couldn't work out quite where we should get the ticket from. We were also expected to pay more to see the Kolymbetra Gardens but by then we were too hot to be bothered although I managed to take this photo before we made for the bar and grabbed a cool drink instead.



Before heading back to the campsite, we decided to have a look around the town of Agrigento. There were lots of shops, big, small, and specialist, little alleyways and stepped passages. We followed a sign for a Monastery that took us up an incline of narrow streets but when we got there we found it was a B&B so we went back down again. We were both tired and decided to get the car and go off in search of a supermarket, head back to camp and cook. Beggars waited by traffic lights and when they changed to red, they went down the line of waiting cars with their hands out for money. Some motorists gave and others didn't.



I hadn't seen the beach at Nettuno despite the fact it was immediately opposite our tent but I resolved to have a look before we packed up and left the next day. Agrigento was scorching hot in the daytime but our camp site on the coast, a few km from the town, got very chilly as the evening wore on. I wasn't the only one who needed a jumper and jeans that night. After the heat of Letojanni, we tended to camp in shade where we could so I didn't feel really warm again until I was under the glare of the sun the next morning. The beach was beautiful. Gorgeous scented white flowers grew wild in the sand. Two Dutch boys I'd seen on the camp were collecting huge dung-beetles in a bucket. I picked one of the flowers and kept it with me in the car because it was so delightful.

We came to the traffic lights and the same African man asking for money the day before was in his usual spot. When he got to our car and stuck his hand out, I placed the flower in it. He looked surprised for a minute and then a broad white smile spread across his face. He sniffed it as he moved on to the next car.

We did pop over to Porto Empodocle - now known as Porto Empodocle Vigata - but it was chaos. They are not currently filming Montalbano so I don't know why the centre of the town was blocked off. A policewoman was directing traffic so there was lots of horns pipping and a general crush of cars with everyone trying to get past her first. From what we could see, there was a huge industrial, and not particularly attractive port in the distance, but of course there was probably a lot more that we weren't going to see. We decided to get out of there as quick as we could and head for Trapani - our next planned stop.

We got lost again and ended up going through a town which had signs to Trapani that pointed all ways so it seemed no matter which way we went, we ended up back in the centre again. After an hour of going in circles, we approached the same arch in town that we had gone through many times before. We were both getting frustrated and we began to argue. I warned him that the light was changing to red at the arch but he stormed that he didn't give a shit.

"Italians don't stop at red lights so why the bloody hell should I!" he said and with that, there was a sudden screech of brakes as a car was coming into the archway from the bend you couldn't see from our side expecting the arch to be clear because it was controlled by traffic lights. I just squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the impact that luckily, either due to the skill of my husband's driving or that of the oncoming motorist, never came. Nothing worse happened than a few angry hoots of the horn afterwards. We decided to take a sign, any sign, and head for it to get out of this Groundhog Day town, trauma has prevented me from remembering its name. We headed back towards Agrigento and once back on a main road, we finally found signs to Trapani and onwards.

We were flying around the Sicilian coast a bit too quickly but I think we were both feeling a bit jaded and, if I'm honest, I was starting to feel homesick. My husband had just come along for the ride - or rather was my driver on a tour that was more my dream than his - and was ready to go home whenever I gave the word. I did contemplate getting a ferry from Sicily to Genoa up in the north. After all we had done top to toe and it would save the car a lot of work if we cut the driving short, but my other half didn't want to do that. He said not going all the way around the boot as we had planned would be like saying we were going to climb Mount Everest only to get a ski-lift to the top.



I think we were both at our lowest point in Trapani when we got lost again. That was a point more than any other other when I wished I could have just been beamed back home like they do in Startrek. We had a day out there looking around and we saw more churches, another beach, more alleyways and passages, more piazzas and shops, although Trapani is different in character to a lot of the Italian towns we saw because of it's Arabic influence. However, it was still all becoming rather repetitive. We arrived about 4pm, parked the car until 9pm near a big park by the sea, my husband said he knew the name of the street we were on, and then went off down some steps to explore the town. After about three hours of walking around, we stopped for a drink and a bite to eat. My other half fancied an ice cream afterwards and went back into the bar to order one as I polished off my beer. He looked at his change when he came out, counted it and then counted it again. He swore blind that he'd been short changed by five Euros. I told him to take it up with the bloke who served him but he didn't see the point as he and the barman didn't speak the same language.

He was frustrated enough about that but to add insult to injury, he didn't even like the ice cream he bought. It was more of a sorbet than gelato. A very old lady hobbled past us with a plastic cup outstretched mumbling "poverina." I felt very sorry to see someone of that great age in those circumstances so I gave her a euro that I happened to have sitting on the table in front of me. Seconds later, a stocky man came by just shoving his cup at me and gasping as he did so. I looked up to see he had what looked like a brass bolt in a tracheotomy. I didn't have any more change to give. Later I saw both him and the old woman in another part of town. They were close to each other and I wondered if they were together, mother and son, perhaps.

It was getting on for 7pm when we decided to go and get the car and head back to our camp site at Valderice, another coastal town a few km away. We didn't like driving in the dark because the damn blinkers you have to put on GB headlights, to stop them blinding continental drivers on the road at night, made them rather dim. We tried to retrace our steps but we couldn't find the area where we'd parked our car. Trapani has sea on three sides and more than one park and my husband couldn't say or spell the street where we'd left it. He struggled to pronounce anything in Italian and although he knew it in his head, and would recognise it when he saw it, he couldn't tell me what it was.



We walked for almost two hours and no matter which way we went, we always ended up coming back to this building. It was starting to get dark and I worried that the police would tow the car away if we didn't pick it up by the time the parking was out at 9pm. I suggested we come out of the labyrinth of streets and walk around on the beach road. We walked for a while and still didn't see the big park near the sea where we'd left the car. He was convinced that we should go back into town again but I was more sure that if just kept on walking a bit more, we'd be sure to find it. He's always had a better sense of direction than me and this time he was determined he would get us where we needed to be so I followed. We came to the centre of town and he was sure that if we just walked ahead a bit more, we'd see the sea, the green park with a fence around it and the car park where we'd left the car. Then we saw a German family of tourists looking at a map so we stretched our necks towards it and tried to take a discreet look when they caught us. I asked if they spoke English. The man said he did, a little.

"Do you know where the big green park is, with a fence around it?" I asked. He pointed to a big green area that didn't look very far away. "Is it this way or that?" I pointed ahead of me and behind me. He looked blank. A police officer was standing nearby.

"This man will help you," he said, so I approached the police officer.

"Do you speak English?" I asked him.

"Yes, a little," he said.

"OK, we have lost our car and we're trying to..." He put his hand up to stop me. His colleague spoke better English, he said, and he called him over and explained something in Italian.

The second policeman asked me what the problem was.

"We've parked our car ..."

"What do you man parked?" he said.

"Parcchegio," I said.

"One minute..." he said and went off to fetch an Italian waiter from a bar close by.

The waiter came over and I began to explain again that we had lost our car because we couldn't find the place we had parked it.

"What do you mean lost?" he said and then had a discussion with the Italian policeman.

"One minute," he said and went off to fetch his barman who he said had better English and he would help us.

By now the Italian policeman thought we'd had our car stolen and he got on his radio to report it. I was getting frantic wondering if the madness would end. My husband was going through all kinds of funny sounding names in hope that one of them would strike a chord with the barman who'd recognise the name of the street he was trying desperately to pronounce, and all I wanted to know was whether the bloody big park was ahead or behind us and how far. It was when the Italian policeman said he needed our registration plate to complete the theft report that in desperation I stepped outside of the bar, approached a group of customers and asked if any of them possibly spoke good English and could help us.

A lovely Italian man stood up. I explained our dilemma and he understood perfectly. He translated to the Italian policeman that our car was not stolen, just mislaid, and we were trying to find the big park we had left it.

"Ah!" said the policeman. "You worry if we take it away because it's after 9pm?" he said and he got on his radio again.

"Well yes," I said, "but more than that we just needed to find it." I turned to the customer who spoke English. "Is it this way or that way?" I asked him.

"That way, just ahead, about 100 metres behind that tree up there."

I apologised for interrupting his meal and he was very gracious about it. The policeman decided to go on ahead and make sure we got to the car park and when we arrived, I hugged and kissed that car. I've never been quite so pleased to see it. In the kerfuffle of mixed messages and language problems we had just been through, my husband wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't be nicked for being in a stolen car somewhere on the way back to camp but happily it ended there.

If we'd not stopped to speak to the Germans with a map, and not got involved in the unfolding misunderstanding that followed, then my husband was right that after getting back into town we were almost there, and I was right that if we had walked a bit further around the main road then we would have found it.

As we walked around lost and feeling glum and helpless, we saw the most bizarre sight that didn't fully register with us until we got back to camp and relaxed a bit. A man on a scooter doing about 30mph, and wearing no helmet, was dragging a cooker on its side behind him. There was a hell of a screeching noise and sparks flew up from the ground. I wondered what use it would be when he got it back to wherever he was taking it - or maybe he was heading for one of the remote back roads somewhere to dump it.

In the next post, which may or may not be tomorrow due to a busy day ahead, we drive through Palermo, contemplate getting to Corleone, and head back to Messina for the ferry to the mainland and the journey ahead around the sole of Italy's foot, the heel and the east coast up the leg.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 6 - RAGUSA TO AGRIGENTO




It was deathly quiet when we arrived in Ragusa. A couple of police officers were standing opposite the church above and even though it was a Sunday, there was no flock of people either coming in or out of Mass. We parked around the corner and then went for ice cream at a cáfe nearby. Ahead of us in the queue was an English family, from London, with two kids. We had a quick chat. They were very interested to know about our trip and said that I was very brown-skinned so it was clear we'd been in Italy, and under the sun, for some time. I explained that I tan very easily but fade just as quickly when the sun doesn't shine - hence I'm almost back to my usual skin colour after almost three weeks of being back home under the usual summer grey cloud.

It was quite refreshing for both me and my other half to have someone new to talk to other than just each other. We did feel somewhat isolated due to the language barrier and of course we could never spark up a conversation with anyone, apart from the occasional Dutch, German or French tourist we met along the way who often spoke better English than we did. I felt handicapped and ashamed at speaking no Italian. People we met along the way who did speak English were often fluent in another two or three languages as well. In Letojanni, our neighbours on the camp site were a young couple with a little three year old girl who came to chat and on realising that we didn't speak the same tongue, decided to try and teach us a few words, and likewise picked up simple English words in return like sugar/zucchero. She was particularly interested in our sugar dispenser and how it worked. I showed her, intending to pour just a few grains in her hand but a big pile came out into her tiny palm which she looked at for a minute and then shoved into her mouth before then licking her hand clean.



The family we met in Ragusa was struggling in the heat so after a chat and a "buon viaggio" they decided to leave the cáfe in search of shade in the park behind the church. We hung around at the bar for a bit longer and then did the same. I was looking over a fence at the countryside in the distance when I noticed my husband was called over to a bench where an African man was sitting. They chatted for a while and when I saw him sit down, I figured this could take some time so I joined them.

The African said he was from Gambia but he felt English because the country was, until recently, in the Commonwealth which he felt attached to. However, he felt betrayed because our Govt is doing nothing about the dictator who runs Gambia and whose persecution of people who don't agree with him forced this man to run for his life leaving his family, wife and children, behind.

He'd left the country by escaping into Libya. He said the people there are "crazy" and he showed us the scars on his legs which he said were caused by a machete. From there he'd paid a lot to sail on a cramped rickety boat which only had enough room for him to sit crouched and bent with many others looking to get to Europe. He cried all the way and didn't expect to survive. Many others don't. He had applied for asylum in Italy and was awaiting all the documentation he needed to be able to work there but it was a long, slow process and he was struggling to scrape a living in the meantime.

He said he was staying at a camp where other Africans lived but he spent his days in the park in Ragusa because he liked it there better. He couldn't sell goods like we'd seen others do in Pisa because he needed the money to invest first and he claimed, desperate African migrants are often exploited by better off African migrants who take their money and then disappear. The upshot of his long and tragic story was that he wanted some money so he could call his wife who didn't have Skype. We had no change and we didn't want to give him a note. We'd been approached by so many beggars on the journey and we couldn't keep giving money away especially as, by now, the budget was draining away and we had to think about the places we really wanted to see once back on the mainland and how we might shorten the trip home to ensure the money didn't run out before we got back. The African needed more help than we could give and from people better connected than us who could make the changes he needed in hope for a better life. We moved on and left him sitting there with his thoughts and memories. My other half was cynical about his motives for wanting money. I felt guilty at not being able to help in any way.

Although it was quiet in the town, we felt we should check out the car and it's a good job we did because we'd parked in a residential spot which could lead to the car being towed away. We moved it to a safer place while we explored as much as we could of Ragusa before the need to go off and find a camp site which was most likely to be found on the coast.



It was when we stumbled across the other church, or rather the Cathedral San Giorgio, I recognised it from my favourite detective TV series Inspector Montalbano although I hadn't gone on any kind of pilgrimage in the commissario's footsteps.




I'd forgotten all about it by the time we found a camp site which wasn't the one we were heading for. My camping guide book indicated that a camp site at Santa Croce Camerina was about 20 km away so we headed for that, did our usual thing of losing the road sign and ended up following signs to an Agriturismo site instead. We didn't know where we were but assumed we were in Santa Croce Camerina because we hadn't passed any village sign to tell us differently.

The reception at the Capo Scalambri was manned by two older men. One spoke very good English and the other was in difficulty just trying to write down our English details. We had quite a conversation. I tried using some of my limited Italian, I did want to improve my language skills, but the English speaking owner insisted that I speak English which he clearly understood better than my pigeon Italian. They were a proper pair of characters. The English speaking one insisted we try his wife's home made limoncello which he was selling, along with other farm produce, at 20 Euros a bottle. He carefully laid out two biscuits each for us, before pouring two shots of the very strong cocktail and instructed us that we must first eat the biscuits before downing in one gulp the limoncello. It tasted a bit like strong medicine with a kick to the back of the throat. The other man then decided to go off and pick us some fresh veg and came back with a bag full of auberginbes and peppers. Because we had no fridge, no ice for the cool box, and no other means of keeping food fresh, we couldn't get through it all before the veg started to turn which was a shame because I've never tasted peppers as juicy. I'd never tasted aubergines at all. Neither of us were very keen on those but we felt obliged to eat as much as we could because of the very kind gesture. It felt like a sin to throw it away.

Upon arrival, I noticed a huge poster on the wall outside of the reception of Inspector Montalbano and the dog he saved from fighting, Orlando, and remarked upon it asking if the men were fans of the series.

"You have that in England?" the English speaking chap said incredulously. "Yes, I said, "I love it and watch it every week that it's on."

"Well, he said, "his house is about 1km away from here if you want to go and see it."

I couldn't pass up on that opportunity so the next day we went in search of it. It didn't feel like a km away because we literally just drove around the corner and there it was, It took a matter of minutes to reach it via a walk along the beach from our camp site, although I have to say it's less impressive in real life, probably because there were lots of tourists hanging out nearby, and a family was staying there because the place is rented out to holidaymakers as a B&B.





We soon found out that the place we were camping at was called Punta Secca. Montalbano is an iconic figure in that part of Sicily. A local cáfe announced that they sold arancini - the favourite food of Inspector Montalbano and behind the counter was a framed photo of actor Luca Zingaretti and, I assume, the owner. In the local tobacconists, they sold fridge magnets with the house on, books about Montalbano the series, and the novels by Andrea Camilleri.

I had my first taste of arancino in Taormina and it was scrumptious but that sold at the Punta Secca bar was orgasmic. I didn't see it on sale in any part of Italy except the far south and Sicily and certainly I haven't seen it sold at home. If cooked correctly, it would make a great popular addition to the pasta and pizza so loved by the British but no one seems to have capitalised on it here yet.

I had my third arancini in Trapani which wasn't very nice, hard on the bottom, and soggy inside. My husband thought it funny that after three arancini, I was considering myself an gourmet expert.

We stayed three days in Punta Secca. It was a lovely marina village with a very strong community spirit. People stopped and chatted in the street, said hello as they sat outside on their terraces as you passed by and it had agreat feel to it. The weather of course was glorious until the last day when the sun was hot but marred by a very strong wind which made swimming in the sea impossible. A life guard stayed on the beach warning people not to go in the sea. The beach was almost empty except for a couple of people with towels over their heads and us. The strong wind also created a sand storm and we felt like we were enduring death by a thousand cuts as tiny grains of sand whipped across our legs, arms and faces and hurt.

Our favourite part of the day was morning when the bread man, fish man and veg man came round at various times to sell their produce from a van. Each called our their goods as they circled the site. "pane! cornetto!" the bread man repeated as he went, "pesce!" the fish man yelled but the veg man who had a deep and scratchy voice sounded his produce as if singing a song. I wish I'd been able to video it because I can't even repeat all the word he sang except for the first two :"patate, manana, ...., .... ,...." and the middle and last last vowels of the last unrepeatable word was dragged out and elongated before he began his little song again.

Our next destination was Agrigento where we saw the Valley of the Temples and we took a very quick look at Porto Empodocle which changed it's name in honour of author Camilleri's fictional town of Vigata, but more about that tomorrow.



Saturday, 23 August 2014

TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 5 - ZAMBRONE TO RAGUSA




Before we left Zambrone we had a day out in Tropea. Chilles are a speciality of the region and there were lots of them hanging in bunches from small specialist shops everywhere you looked. We bought a jar of pasta sauce made from chillies but not the really hot sort which they call bombe and we had our first taste of cannoli There were lots of steps leading down to the white sandy beach and the town was quite charming if somewhat rather invaded by tourists like us and the prices reflected this. It was quite expensive. The prettiest monument we saw was the church and monastery of Santa Maria della Isola, which sits on top of a limestone rock facing the sea. Fishermen's cave homes line the path to the church.



We inadvertently went to the pedestrian embarkation dock when we reached Reggio Calabria, which is in Italy's toe and where the ferry to Sicily goes from. We were sent back to the motorway with instructions to come off at Villa San Giovanni and follow signs for vehicles. We had another round of going in circles before we finally got there. Italian road signs point left when they mean straight ahead which often confused us and led to many wasted hours searching back roads for a way back to our flight path. I still remember a drenched ragged looking dog sitting alone in torrential rain on a hillside track we ventured along after losing a road sign sometime after after we left Pompeii.

Driving out of the dock at Messina was madness with drivers sounding their horns, crossing lanes, coming from right, left and centre, but we scrambled through the city and got onto the road for Taormina which was our first stop. We planned to just follow the coast line and stop at places we fancied having a look at, maybe going inland if it looked easy enough on the map. My camping guide book suggested a camp site at Letojanni, a seaside town nearby.

The camp site leading down to the beach was packed, very noisy and it was hot. The sun was bright and strong with the temperature simmering at about 37 degrees so we took full advantage of being able to swim in the sea and cool down. The heat in the tent at night was unbearable. We were melting. On balance, leaving the tent flap open with the risk of letting mosquitos in was the better option than dehydration. We got a lot of bites but the soothing salt water and the treatment cream we had helped a lot.

It was lovely to get up, shower, and laze in the sea first thing in the morning after a bad night. We were swimming happily and remarking how wonderful it was to be in the water when my other half suddenly yelled out and said he'd been bitten by something. He was quite far out and struggled to get back to his footing. When he reached the shore, he said whatever had got him felt like an electric shock. Neither of us was keen to swim anymore so we headed back to the tent. Once there, I took a proper look at his shoulder. It had blistered into a shape like Sicily.



The mosquito bite cream seemed to bring the swelling down. We supposed it was a jelly fish but we didn't see anything in that clear blue sea during our swim. It certainly made us a little more wary after that. The next day the blisters had gone completely but he was left with something that looked like a strawberry birth mark.



Letojanni was a typical Italian seaside town with lots of bars and restaurants serving food that was mostly alien to us, apart from pizza and pasta. Our budget didn't allow for wining and dining often but we decided to eat out in the town. The owner of the restaurant we chose could see we struggled with what to order, and our language problem was evident, and so he sent over an English speaking waiter who really looked after us. I wanted a quart of wine but ordered half by mistake so I ended up a little bit tiddly by the end of the evening.

We ordered steak and he recommended a salad which suited me fine. My husband wanted chips and the waiter looked a bit offended. "We won't do chips," he said. "Bread? Pane?" I asked. His nose went up in the air at the suggestion and he appeared to be about to say no but then relented and said : "Just for you this time." Another waiter was about to bring us salad when he was called back by the other one who insisted it wasn't dressed and we couldn't have it. Meanwhile, as we waited for our food, I ate the olives that were placed in front of me with the wine. I don't normally like them but I developed quite a craving for them by the end of the trip and that started that night in the Letojanni restaurant. The meal was delicious too. We had a good night and looked forward to visiting Taormina the next day.



Driving is forbidden in the old city which sits on top of a cliff so we parked in a multi-storey and then had a long walk up hundreds of steps to get to the centre of town. Taormina has very narrow roads and passageways which are packed with tourists and it's easy to see the attraction. It is a very diverse and colourful place with a huge character. Author DH Lawrence made his home there.



We walked around for hours taking in as much as we could. There was a small amphitheatre, the Roman Odeon, which unlike the Bigger Greek Amphitheatre was free to enter, at the back of some houses so we ventured in as it was devoid of visitors and we could have a good look around. However, as soon as we entered, a huge group of tourists with a tour guide suddenly appeared in a flurry of noise so we inched our way between them and headed for the exit.

Most people travel from top to toe in Italy but we'd decided to go around the whole coastline. This inevitably meant we'd see more than a balanced share of seaside towns. It made a nice change, therefore, to visit Ragusa a southern inland town, that was divided by an earthquake in 1693. It was also officially the half way mark in our journey and where we met an African immigrant in a park with a very traumatic story to tell that made me feel privileged not only to have a home and family but a second home - even if it was just a two man tent.



I'd hoped to write more today but there is too much to say in one post so I'll save some of the other adventures that I mentioned yesterday in Punta Secca, Trapani, and Aquadolce for tomorrow's read.


Friday, 22 August 2014

TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 4 - TERME di SATURNIA TO ZAMBRONE




We got a little lost on our way back to a better road south from the Termi di Saturnia when we came across the above pictured fort. I have no idea where we were but my husband was so impressed by it, he had to pull over and get a shot. Castles, forts, and amphitheatres were his favourite sights. Mine were churches, narrow alleyways and steps.

We had two rules on the journey. One was to always ensure we filled up with petrol when the car hit half full - if we got lost the last thing we wanted to worry about was the possibility of running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere - and the second rule was to find a camp site before dark, preferably by 7pm - it isn't easy pitching up when you can't see properly.

It was early evening when we got back to a main blue road. We couldn't find any signs to camp sites along the way so I checked the Camping guide book I'd bought for the trip. It mentioned a couple in Rome and although we had no intentions of visiting the city, we were pleased to find somewhere to stay. However, it was about 8pm when we pulled in. The place was huge and very expensive - but then it did supply toilet roll which was a rarity in camp site toilets where you're normally expected to provide your own.

There was a group of young Australians camped nearby and adult supervisors staying in a huge camper van next to our tent. We'd had something to eat and just got the kettle on when the downpour came again. We were both irritable,tired and fed up of rain.

We went off to seek wi-fi and find the bar which was packed with the Aussies watching a world cup football match. There was lots of drinking and lots of noise. The wi-fi didn't work, the bar was too noisy, it was raining hard, and so at about 10pm we decided to get our heads down for the night.

Sleep was impossible because the young Australians got louder and louder. Sound carries further after dark. Every time we nodded off, there was more whooping and yelling from the kids and that rave type music that feels like someone's taking a hammer to your head with every thumping, dischorded beat. At 4am I could stand no more. I sat upright and shouted at the top of my voice :"This camp shouldn't be selling alcohol to kids at this time in the morning and those teachers need bloody shooting for allowing that lot to drink all night!" On reflection, it was a bit harsh. We were staying at a holiday camp after all. They were just having fun and why should they creep around because two weary, knackered, and middle aged travellers needed sleep - although clearly on the night, I was very irate.

About five minutes after my outburst, everything went deathly quiet. Tent walls are as thin as paper. Maybe the adults in the camper van next to us - which flew the Australian flag - heard and sorted out the rowdy bunch or maybe the 4am wake up call was the official end to whatever party they were at. We managed to drop off but we had to be up and packed early. We woke about 8am and there was no sign of the Aussies who were, perhaps, snoozing on a coach taking them somewhere.

We drove for two hours around Rome looking for a road sign to Naples which was the direction we needed for Pompei. We got so frustrated at driving round in circles, that we reluctantly took a green toll road just to get us moving again. As it turned out, it wasn't as expensive as France. We paid two Euro when we came off.

We drove through the outskirts of Naples and it looked a bit grim. To find it's beautiful centre, we'd have to drive in and we both wanted to avoid getting lost again so we bypassed it in favour of staying in Pompei. We were both more interested in seeing the volcanic ruins than art in Naples anyway.

I was vary of using the camping guide book again but a site it recommended seemed easy to get to by just taking a turn off the motorway. When I read properly the description of the Rome camp site, it did say that it was more geared up to attract the young. If I was 18 - 30, I probably would have loved it. However, Camping Zeus sounded perfect and more our cup of tea, especially as it was right at the entrance of the ruins. We decided to hang around for a few days for sightseeing, to get some washing done as the weather was glorious, and to rest.

We'd just got settled in and had tea when this little chap came along to say hello.



He was a bit mucky and he had fleas but he was very friendly and clearly liked the company of people. I looked around thinking he must belong to someone on the site but I soon found out he was a stray. He didn't stay long before moving on. We called him Zeus after the camp site. Later on, as we walked through the town, we saw many dogs wandering around on their own and with others and we realised no one owned them. We saw the sandy coloured puppy walking away from the camp site behind two older dogs as we approached after our walk. I pointed him out to my husband and said : "Ooh look, there's Zeus," and the dog turned his head at the mention of the name we had given him and I swear he smiled as dogs sometimes do.

The next day was blistering hot and we had hours to look around the ruins. The first thing we saw was an old dog resting on the cool marble floor of the entrance. Signs were posted around warning tourists not to approach the strays. Not all of them were as friendly as Zeus and this one certainly wasn't. We saw him later barking at and chasing cars.

I hadn't realised historic Pompeii was an actual city and it took some getting around. We walked for four hours and didn't get around it all. I wanted to see the erotic art and the casts of bodies (black tourism again) but we couldn't find them. I did see some casts isolated on their own and my husband picked up a fridge magnet while there which gave us a taste of what we had missed. There were other artistic frescoes to see and mosaics too.











There was a sadness about the place and it did feel a little immoral taking tourist photos of what was a massive human tragedy. This was clearly in other visitors' minds. A little girl was laughing and playing near the cast of a sitting person with his hands to his face that looks like he's weeping. Her father asked her to have some respect. They are not real bodies but each cast represents a person who died an awful death.

Apparently, when the exotic art was discovered it was thought too disgusting, initially, to show to the public and then men were later allowed to view it. Woman were banned from seeing it until the 1980s.

Camping Zeus run trips to the top of Vesuvius but if you want to go to the crater, you have to pay extra. We took the bus ride which was hair raising. I mention it in detail HERE in an article looking at a different aspect of Italian life but if you're a rabid anti-smoker, it's best not to look.

The roads to the top were were narrow and hairpin like this one. Initially the weather was lovely but as we left Vesuvius, the heavens opened which made the ride a little more unnerving. It stopped by the time we reached an isolated bar on route where we had free wine tasting and bruschetta.





We didn't go to the crater because of a misunderstanding about the cost and a row my husband had with a shirty guide at the entrance to the crater walk, so we hung around at the foot of it picking up pieces of lava for the grandkids and taking photos of the lizards running around. We also had a beer in the bar and a chat with our bus crew who were great.



The rain came back to the camp and so did Zeus who had popped in every day to say hello. I felt sorry for him walking this way and that, following people who he thought might take him in and out of the rain. If I'd had something bigger than a two man tent, I might have taken him in and if I could have taken him home, I would, but it was impossible. We didn't see him again after that night. We asked the staff about him and other strays in the area and why there was no dog warden of anyone to look after them, but he said that was just the way it was. I wondered if Zeus had managed to melt another camper's heart and been taken home. I hoped so anyway. He was definitely a dog, or rather a pup, who wanted a human friend.

We said goodbye to Pompeii and headed down to Tropea. My husband was all for cracking on towards Sicily but I reminded him it wasn't supposed to be a race and Tropea looked gorgeous. The place was packed with people as we drove through the small town and it was difficult to negotiate our way past them all walking on the roads because the pavements weren't big enough. We didn't find the site mentioned in my guide book which was just as well. Quite by accident, as we gave up and headed back on the road towards Reggio Calabria, where we would take the ferry to Sicily, we found a little piece of heaven at the Paradiso del Sub in Zambrone - a place that wasn't even on the map.



We pulled in at the sign and then followed a long, winding, narrow road down, wondering where it would eventually lead us. Then we saw this when we got to the bottom and it took our breath away.



The link above to Paradiso Del Sub shows there is a whole different side to the camp site which we didn't see. We were happy with the camping pitch because apart from two other campers in a tent, who left the next day, a bloke who came out every day to sit on a huge rock and fish, and a family in a caravan, there was no one else around so it felt like we had it all pretty much to ourselves, although a few people who were staying in nearby bungalows on the site occasionally walked past and disappeared along the path. We didn't know where they went but I'm guessing to the swimming pool and the whole camping village that we didn't know existed.

The photo above shows the view from our tent. We were lulled to sleep each night by the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks. I could have stayed there all holiday but we weren't even half way on our journey so reluctantly after a couple of days, we moved on in search of new adventures in Sicily - a place we both looked forward to getting to.

Tomorrow's post recalls how we ended up at a lovely site just around the corner from Inspector Montalbano's house, how we lost the car in Trapani and failed to make ourselves understood at one of the few times when being able to speak Italian really mattered, how my husband fell foul of police in Aquadolce, and earlier got stung by a jelly fish in Letojanni where we camped because it was close to Taormina.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 3 - LAVAGNA TO TERME di SATURNIA




We thought we'd seen the last heavy rainfall in Lavagna where we endured a huge thunderstorm which banged so loud in the middle of the night, right next to the tent by the sound of it, that it woke us both up. Luckily we stayed dry, if the bedding was a bit damp, and the next day, as we packed up and made our way south down the western side of the coast, the sky was clear and it was hot.

We had no intention of stopping in Pisa because we've seen it many times and at that time of year, it was flooded with tourists. However, we knew of a cheap and comfortable little hotel there and we both wanted a proper bed and some rest. Not only had it changed its name from The Villa Leaning Tower to the Villa Soriano which confused us somewhat, it was also full when we arrived. We booked in for the following night, left the car there, and made our way to another hotel, without parking, The Ariston which was right next to the Piazza dei Miracoli which includes the magnificent leaning tower.

It's a good job that we did because that storm from our last night in Lavagna caught up with us. Pisa was grey and very cold and although we could see the night sky floodlit with lightning from our hotel room, we couldn't hear the thunder. Everywhere we walked the next day, we had to negotiate our way past tourists doing the holding up the tower shot, and the Africans selling umbrellas or sunglasses depending on the weather. No thankyou wasn't always accepted and we felt a little harassed at times, although we also accept that they have a hard living to make in difficult circumstances.

We decided to catch a train to Lucca. It was another place on my wish list and although it was clear and bright when we arrived, the clouds soon moved in and before long torrential rain came down, as the photo above shows. We ran to a cáfe bar for wine and bruschetta and shelter. I'm often told I look Italian. Waiters always approached me speaking the language and would look surprised by the confused look on my face but it gave me the opportunity to say fluently one of the few sentences I could construct : "Mi dispiace, non parla Italiano." On this occasion, the lady surprised me more by switching to English in a strong Scottish accent. "Ooh sorry," she said. "I thought you were Italian." I was intrigued to know how she, and the other staff member who was also Scottish, came to run a bar in Lucca but they were very busy due to the sudden influx of customers who were also trying hard to avoid the sudden downpour.

We stayed until the rain eased off but although Lucca was beautiful, it was pretty miserable walking around in such cold, dull, weather. Our budget was always tight and so we had planned to be selective about the museums, galleries and attractions we visited that had entry fees which were almost always quite expensive. During a short holiday of a week or two then it isn't such a problem but when you're hoping to stretch your cash over eight weeks then you have to be as prudent as you can. The way things were going, because we spent far too much in Pisa, we'd be lucky if our budget covered petrol, camp site fees, ferry fees and food when we still had such a long way to get around the boot. We were already trying to be careful.

However, a visit up The Guinigi Tower, at eight Euros each, was another way of taking our minds off the grey miserable weather. My husband was surprised the weight of the trees at the top didn't bring the tower down and we did get a marvellous view of the city below.



Later, as we walked around some more, we came across some underground tunnels which were fascinating, dry, and out of the chilly air.





There was also a replica of the Guinigi Tower down there so I decided to do my own "holding up the tower" shot there instead of the Leaning Tower of Pisa so favoured by tourists. It was so flimsy that as soon as I put my hands on it, I almost pushed it over. Everything appeared to be made of cardboard.



The sun finally came out and the air heated up a lot after we got back to Pisa. We grabbed a fantastic night's sleep at the Villa Soriano but we woke up covered in mosquito bites. The repellent cream helped a lot but didn't always deter the pesky little mites.

I was looking forward to getting back to camping after two nights in a hotel in a place we never planned to stay and I had intended to stop in Cecina but I was completely dazzled by the gorgeous coastline along that stretch and didn't notice that we'd missed the turn off. My husband who only kept his gaze fixed on the road and depended on me for navigation, didn't want to find a way to turn back. I thought Grossetto was close and maybe we could take a train back to Cecina once settled but after a very long drive we realised that it was much further than we thought so I missed that opportunity. My husband also wanted to see the wreck of the Costa Concordia - black tourism, apparently - but it wasn't at Grossetto as we thought but rather an island off the coast somewhere.

As we made our way there, we saw signposts to the Island of Elba and we couldn't resist taking time out to visit as it was on the wish list of places we hoped to see during the trip. We found ourselves heading for Piombino where the ferry sailed from and about an hour after a wonderful, blue sky and azure calm sea crossing, we stepped off at Portoferraio.



It was lovely, very hot and very beautiful - full of the sort of enchanting alleyways I love so much but it was all rather rushed as we only had a couple of hours before we had to get back on the ferry and on course towards Grossetto.



My husband who had been so scathing about churches and religion in general while visiting a church in Aosta put some holy water on a particularly huge mosquito bite and was amazed when it had disappeared the next day without giving him any trouble at all. I did my usual thing of lighting a candle near my mother's favourite saint.



We arrived at Grossetto late and stayed only one night in a wood which was very busy and packed with campers. The next day we took a look at the beach and had a paddle and then checked out the gorgeous marina where the boats are docked. With the sun still shining, we decided to drive south as far as we could get before dark. However, because I'd noticed that the Terme di Saturnia was relatively close to Grossetto and might be easy to get to, we decided that if it was signposted on the way, then we'd follow it. If not, then we'd continue with our plan to head south before dark.



Saturnia was signed and we ventured out on small country roads in search of it. I wasn't disappointed when we found it. Legend has it that the Gods Jupiter and Saturn had a massive fight in the area and when Jupiter threw a lightning bolt at Saturn, he missed and created the hot springs so enjoyed by people like me today. I was in heaven. My husband in his cynical way poo-pooed the legend and said he was sure it was just a hot sewer pipe running along there like the old hotties in Stamp End in my home town where he played as a kid. That was something to do with the steam coming from the old now defunct and derelict factories.

I could have spent all day there. People lazed in the water and others covered themselves from head to toe in mud which I assume is some form of beauty therapy. As time got on, we decided to grab a snack in the bar on the site and head onwards. There was an American girl in front of me in the queue who ordered a huge array of food for herself and her friends and then after giving such a long order, she found the bar didn't accept cash cards and she had no means to pay and so cancelled the order. Luckily for us, we had just enough to pay for the burger and chips beer and coca cola we consumed which was perfect after the hunger I felt from swimming in what was like a lovely warm bath.





The Terme di Saturnia remains one of the highlights of the trip for me but there was still a long way to go to get around that boot and see as much of Sicily as we could as well. If readers are not bored by my travel adventure yet, then tomorrow I'll talk about the awful camp site we stayed at in Rome full of rowdy drunken Australian youths, the stray dog I fell in love with in Pompei, and a little piece of heaven we found near Tropea.