ALIRA 20 September, 2014 - Catania, Sicily 37:29.988N 015:05.567E

Charles & Maggie Bevis
Sat 20 Sep 2014 19:03
Our last entry was posted just as we started the run through the straits of Messina. We’re glad to say that we had a smooth passage through, in fair fine weather and with no serious whirlpools in sight!

We kept up to the Scicilian shore and had a grandstand rare view of one of the bizarre swordfish boats in action. These are 40-50ft motor boats with a 60ft lattice mast and an 80ft bowsprit The skipper helms from the top of the tower, along with another member of crew as lookout, from here, they can see when the swordfish appear on the surface. As the boat approaches a fish, a platform on the bowsprit is then manned by a harpoon thrower and the deed is done! A very strange looking craft and very unusual to see one. Charlie had heard about them, but we never expected to actually see one. The swordfish caught within the straits are alleged to be the best in the world. Having had a large steak for supper this evening, bought from the fish market this morning, we would have to agree - quite superb.

We pressed on southward after the narrows to Taormina, where there are moorings in the bay operated by a very helpful Maltese chap. With the boat safetly moored we went ashore in the dinghy and caught a bus up to the town of Taormina and then a taxi up to the village of Castelmola. Both are very much orientated to tourists but provide their own unique attractions.

The artisans in Castelmola appear to have a fixation with the male genitalia as this appears in art work, carvings, architectural features etc etc, as well as souvenirs for the tourists to buy! The restaurant we chose for brunch, was, to our amazement and amusement, completely decorated to within an inch, bearing testimony to that fixation! Ballustrates, taps, table legs, chair backs, novelty carvings and even the place mats,e’r we not sure we feel brave enough to post photographs on our page! However, it was all very amusing and the restaurant has clearly provided much entertainment to its many customers/visitors. Brunch was, by the way, really excellent.

Taormina features beautiful ruins dating Greek and Roman times with a fabulous amphitheater and extensive tourist and fashion shops. A really delightful place to visit, even if it is on the main tourist/cruise ship itinerary and well worth another visit sometime in the future. Locals are extremely friendly, but that is perhaps because they know we are all willing to part with our Euros - It’s a real grockle trap!

Closer to home we found an off-licence/booze shop on the quayside where we'd landed from the dinghy, selling wine, beer and spirits at incredibly good prices - we stocked up and bought a 5ltr bottle of draft wine for 1.5€/ litre. That was on Wednesday. As I write this on Saturday, I am sad to report the demise of the bottle - it must have had a leak, as it’s all gone!

Both villages are dominated by Mt Etna which is visible to the south and on clear days, provide spectacular views. The past two days have been incredibly humid and hot, hence the visibility has been really poor, so we consider ourselves lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to enjoy such beautiful views.

Our planned 3rd night was frustrated by the weather and with a significant swell forecast we were obliged to move on. The consolation was a memorable sail south to Catania with speeds of up to 8 knots.

Catania is a hot noisy and dirty city. The marina in the old commercial docks isn’t that nice but is conveniently situated. The first full day here was, for Charlie, spent working on Brookes Bell opinion work while the girls explored and researched a trip to Mt Etna. They were gone for several hours. Was I nervous? You never know what these two get up to when off the leash. I’m glad to report they returned later in the afternoon, foot sore, hot and tired, but had done little damage to the euro balance - phew!

Day 2 started early with a walk to the nearby metro station and a train to the main bus station. We then joined an excursion bus taking us through the suburbs of this city, the 2nd largest on Sicily, up to the lower slopes of the volcano - evidence of eruptions of the last few years are everywhere. Once there at a height of some 1000+m (poor bus - poor gearbox!) we revelled in the cooler air. We then boarded a cable car which took us up another 1000+metres. From there an all terrain 4x4 vehicle took us up another 800m to the base of three vents, an active one to the north and two dormant craters to the south and southwest. From there, a guide took us on a 40 minute walk to the top of the nearest crater. Temperatures in town were in the 30’s. Temperatures on the lip of the crater were in the high teens with an extremely strong wind, which accounted for at least one hat in our party (not ours), although I very nearly lost mine over the edge of another crater. All in all quite an experience and we were all very glad to have done it. Not a cheap day out at 60€ per person for the cable car and 4x4, then lunch, metros and buses on top of that, but yes, it was worth it.

Today was a laundry day together visits to the chandler for bits and pieces and more bottled gas. The winds are fresh and from the south and as you well know, if we can avoid bashing to windward we do so. It's another day in a hot (30 + degrees) dirty Catania. Music last night kept us all awake until 03:00 so it would have been nice to move on. But we’ve survived and together with another excellent meal, cooked by chef Maggie, washed down with a better quality wine, we have nothing to complain about.

Tomorrow is Syracusa - sadly this will be the last stop for Ann as she will get a bus or train from there back to Catania airport next Wednesday. We then have just 3 weeks until we too return to United Kingdom (thank you Scotland!), we are delighted to keep this title.

Charlie & Maggie Bevis
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