Saturday, 23 August 2014


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.

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