The Spiritual Variant – 125 Mile Pilgrim Finale

During our planning of this adventure, many had recommended that we do the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Way. It added a little more distance and included a boat ride up a river. We were told it was very special and quite beautiful. Pontevedra was where those taking the Spiritual Variant broke off from the main Portuguese Way. It had a lot less pilgrims and was very magical.

Pontevedra to Armenteira. 9.64 miles/15.5 km and 1519 feet/463 m of elevation

This was another brutal stage. Although shorter in distance, it was more elevation in a shorter amount of time. Ummm….I do not believe I was told about all these elevation stages! I was only aware of one! Apparently, I need to do my own research to see what I am truly getting into! The climb was relentless! If you recall from our last post, we had quite a bit of fun late into the night yesterday. As a result, Dan was suffering beyond belief (the result of mixing beer, wine, 4 different liqueurs, and port….I stuck to wine and the liqueurs). While he lamented the grueling hill in pouring rain, threatening to vomit on a regular basis, I dug my heels in and did my penance. I charged up the hill forcing myself to conquer it, leaving Dan far behind. I’m such a bad wife. Along the way, there was a drink station set up for pilgrims. It’s a help yourself set up with the request of a small donation if you can. Dan stopped and purchased an orange soda (something he never drinks and loaded with sugar). That was just the hit he needed, and before long he caught up with me. Unfortunately, his sugar rush only lasted about 45 minutes. Luckily, we were finely at the top. Now time to go down.

While up was certainly not much fun, down turned out to be just as bad. Thanks to days of rain, our descent was through thick and slippery mud and ponds of water (all in the pouring rain and wind). Near the end, we encountered rocks and boulders to down climb. Between the slickness of the rocks and my heavy pack (and gravity not working in my favor), I chose to slide down them on my ass. We finally arrived at the monastery in Armenteira., soaked to the bone and shivering. We headed inside and got our passports stamped by a monk. Now we had to figure out how to get to our lodging which was a 15 minute drive out of town. There were no cabs available as school had just let out, and they were busy shuttling kids. The owner of the guest house finally took pity on us and came to get us. It was a lovely stone house with a communal sitting area and 6 guest rooms. Unfortunately, the heat would not turn on until late into the night. A hot shower helped a bit, but Dan spent the next few hours buried in the bed under all the blankets. Yes, he was still sick from last night’s fun. I, on the other hand, enjoyed a light snack of local mussels and olives and a glass of local wine. It was a good thing since our overpriced dinner at this guest house was extremely meager and not very good. That was a disappointment. We did meet a gentleman from the Netherlands who was 70 years old and doing his 4th Camino! We also met a woman from Latvia. The 4 of us were all staying at the guest house. We left ahead of the others the following morning. Once again, we were trying to find weather windows with the least amount of rain.

Rain, rain and more rain!
Poio Monastery
Pilgrim encouragement!
Donativo- it’s a donation based fridge stocked with sugary drinks for energy for the big hill.
Trail was slick in many places from the rain
Monk stamped our credentials at the Monastery
Steep hill!
We met a 70 year old Danish man who was on his sixth Camino

Armenteira to Barrantes 4.38 miles/7 km and 65 feet/20 m elevation

We had a taxi come get us to bring us back to the monastery (it was important to us to resume our journey from where we left it and not shortcut it). We decided to make our trek short today since the rain was forecasted to get much worse. This leg was absolutely stunning (and a little scary). It is known as the Ruta da pedra e da auga which means the route of rock and water in Galician. Since arriving in Spain, we have been in the region of Galicia so my limited Spanish abilities were of less use since Galicia has its own language. Anyway, our journey today had us following a raging river with lots of rushing waterfalls. The surrounding area was very lush and tropical which also meant climbing over some downed trees from the bad weather. You may be wondering what is so scary about that? Well, thanks to days of heavy rain, the ground was again very muddy and slick. Often times, we were right at the water’s edge. One slip into the raging water would have been deadly. We also had to traipse over wet boulders and walk through mini waterfalls that cropped up because of the rain runoff. To give you an idea of the how rough it was, it took us 45 minutes to cover 1 mile (our entire journey to this point averaged just under 20 minute miles). This route use to contain a number of water mills. A number of the decaying, stone structures still dotted the banks of the river. This portion of the trek had been all downhill (finally!) which meant our entire elevation gain today was getting to our room. Once again, we arrived soaking wet and muddy. Man, I knew we might get some rain this time of year but geez! Enough!

“Route of rock and water” – a highlight of our Camin0
Beautiful hike!

Barrantes to Villanova de Arousa 10.34 miles/16.6km and 430 feet/131 m elevation

Surprise! Another day of rain forecasted. We tried to find the best window to start our next stage. The day started out with drizzle as we trekked along the banks of another river. Unfortunately, because of the endless days of heavy rain, parts of the river had overflowed the banks (and thus our trail). We were quickly getting wetter and wetter trying to navigate through the ponds of water. An hour and a half into our journey, we hit the big river overflow. It was clear that those who came before us strayed off trail into the tall foliage in an attempt to find higher and drier ground. As we followed their path, the water had already risen to the point that there was nowhere to go but through. As the crushed plant life began to sink beneath our feet, we were now calf deep in water. The river had bested us. We now had 2 hours left in our journey in sopping wet sneakers, two pair of wet wool socks, and wet pant legs….yuck. Our resilience on this pilgrimage was definitely being put to the test. Our final 20 minutes of walking, the rain poured down on us. Why wouldn’t you want your top half to be as wet as your bottom half?!? This also meant the arrival of our first blister. We were about to finish the Spiritual Variant of our journey and rejoin the main Camino route.

The next morning involved a boat ride up the river to the city of Padron. There would be no walking today and of course, no rain. This was a good thing since it was cold and windy on the boat ride, so rain would’ve really sucked. As we cruised up the river, we passed through 2300 mussel farms run by individual families. This area is the largest exporter of mussels. Each platform consisted of 200 ropes. Each rope was capable of growing 250-300 kg/551-661 pounds of full grown mussels. Also along the river route, there were 17 crosses to commemorate the journey of St. James’ body. At one spot, there were 3 crosses together which were said to represent St. James and the two disciples that traveled with his body from Jerusalem (it is the local interpretation). Another cross on the river has its post completely submerged during high tide leaving only the cross itself visible on the water. The next cross we encountered was named Pisa. The story was that the workers installing it had taken a lunch break which involved a few bottles of wine. They went back to work after lunch, and the cross was installed with a very evident lean to it. From there, we passed by some Viking tower ruins from the 9th and 10th centuries. This area was a Celtic town that frequently fought the northern countries of Europe. Beside the towers are 2 replicas of Viking ships. In August, the town re-enacts the battle between the locals and the Vikings. It is supposedly quite the event to see. An hour and a half later, we arrived in Padron. Unfortunately, it was a holiday in Padron so many things were closed. We did walk the town which was quite beautiful, went into a few churches, and enjoyed a big concert in the square. Since this is where the Spiritual Variant of the Camino and the Portuguese Way intercept, there were many, many pilgrims here. It was hard to believe that we were almost done with our 194 km/120.5 mile trek. We were excited about our accomplishment but also feeling oddly sad that it was coming to an end. How weird is that?

Onwards on the Spiritual Variant!
Arriving in the seaside town of Vilanova de Arousa
Boat trip on the “Maritime Way” retracing the path to Santiago of St James’s remains
17 stations of the Cross along the way
Ancient Fortress defending the town of Padron from Vikings
Replica Viking longship from days long ago
Padron Cathedral
Springtime in Padrón

Padron to Milladoiro 11.84 miles/19km and 1182 feet/360 m of elevation

Video warmup of our penultimate stage

The last stage of the Portuguese Way goes from Padron to Santiago de Compostela. Given that there was a decent amount of elevation remaining (almost 1700 feet/518 m), I was not sure I could handle 17 miles as well, all in one go. I also figured that getting in to town the next morning would make for less pilgrims arriving at the office to get their certificates. Based on the number of pilgrims we encountered in Milladoiro, it appeared we all had the same thought…haha. This was our last big day. Tomorrow’s trek into the old city would be a short one. It felt so strange to not have any more big days ahead of us.

As you get closer to Santiago the number of fellow Pilgrims on the trail increases a lot
Less than ten miles to go!!!

Milladoiro to Santiago de Compostela. 5.29 miles/8.5 km and 504 feet/153m of elevation

We made it! Not only that, but we arrived on my birthday. We rolled into Santiago de Compostela early in the day and headed straight to the pilgrims office. We received a ticket number for our spot in line. We were pilgrims number 118 and 119 out of 2,037 that arrived that day. We answered some questions, showed our stamped passports and were given our certificates of completion. It was quite a fast process which was very unexpected based on all we had seen and heard. This is also where I chose to leave my final rock. I saved my favorite one for this special place. I had picked this one up on the trails around our house during our training hikes. It was striped and glittery and shaped like a heart.

Our hotel was right in the heart of the old city which was spectacular. We visited the focal point of the city which was the St. James Cathedral. It was beautiful. We also saw the tomb of St. James. That night, Dan took me to a Michelin star restaurant for my birthday where we had a wonderful tasting menu. The following day we attended the pilgrims mass which acknowledges all the pilgrims that arrived the day before. The mass was done in Spanish, and we are pretty sure we heard the word Arizona. We assumed that maybe they mentioned the furthest location of the pilgrims arriving the day before. Who knows? It was a nice experience even if I could only understand about a third of it.

On our last day, we took a train to the beach town of A Coruna. This turned out to be a much larger city than we imagined. It was about a half hour walk to the seaside and also where the cruise ships arrive. We wandered the old town here for a bit, had some octopus and calamari for lunch, then headed back. Back in Santiago de Compostela, we explored a few museums. One of the museums was a Pilgrims Museum which detailed the history of the St. James pilgrimage through history. I was somewhat reluctant to go (boring), but it was actually quite fascinating.

We spent 2 nights and 3 days in Santiago de Compostela, but the time had come to return to Zoe and finish up our work….boo. They say these pilgrimages are addicting. I laughed at that. How crazy! Oh, how wrong I was! Before we even finished, we were discussing which one would be our next and how soon we could do it. Spoiler alert….our next one is almost fully planned, and in this very same year. Go team Muzich! Thanks for joining our adventures!

The first time in 125 miles the arrows were unclear of which way to go!
Video of last stage thoughts on our Camino
The destination of “The Way” – 11th Century Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
On line at the Pilgrim office to get our credential processed
We received certificates attesting to completing the Camino
Robyn showing the two stamps a day in our Credentials
Dan is proud of his hard won Pilgrim Credential as well!
Robyn placing her last “burden” at our destination
Collection of Pilgrim burdens at finish
Pilgrim mass honoring those who arrived the day before
Viewing the Tomb
The Tomb of St James

2 Peregrinos on the Camino de Santiago

After several fun filled days exploring the city of Porto, it was finally time to make our way to the starting point of our 194 km/121 mile trek of the Camino de Santiago.  We hopped on a train for the 1 hour ride from Porto to Barcelos.  From the train station, we had a 20 minute walk to the city center.  Something big was underway, as the streets and alleyways were lined with beautiful lighted sculptures, colorful flags and banners, and hundreds of students lining the streets getting ready to march in a parade.  It turned out to be a celebration of Portugal’s liberation 50 years ago.  It was fun to be in the center of all the excitement.  We only had the one evening in Barcelos before starting our Camino trek the following morning, so we wandered the city center and found a cafe that catered to Camino pilgrims (peregrinos).  For $5 euro each, we had a big bowl of hearty soup with bread, a plate full of food, and a large glass of wine.  What a deal!  All throughout the city, there were these bright and colorful roosters of varying sizes.  The rooster is quite famous, and the story quite intriguing.  I will give you the short version but highly recommend looking up the more detailed version.  Basically, the folk tale is that a dead rooster crows to prove an accused man’s innocence. There are a number of variations on the basic theme and all are quite fun to read.  Needless to say, we purchased a small version of the colorful rooster that adorns the town.  We turned in somewhat early in preparation for our long walking days ahead.

The pretty town of Barcelos – our Camino starting point
The famous rooster of Barcelos
Pilgrims canteen – hearty and cheap fuel for trekkers

Day 1:  Barcelos to Balagues – 11 miles/18 kilometers

The first part of this trek was definitely not my favorite.  We walked through town and along busy roadways without sidewalks making me very uncomfortable from a safety standpoint.  Plus, this was not at all what I pictured in my head.  A tradition on the camino is to carry a rock from home that serves as a symbol of your burdens.  During our hikes around our house, we had carefully chosen several rocks, unique to our area, that would represent our burdens.  I decided to leave one at the start, one at the border between Portugal and Spain, and the final one at the Cathedral of St. James.  As we began to leave the town behind, we came across a stone cross which seemed like the perfect place to leave our stone.  Dan asked if I had left my burden behind to which I replied, “no because you’re still here.”  Haha….just kidding!  We both laughed.  Eventually, the path meandered into the countryside where things were much more tranquil and serene.  The countryside was beautiful and ever changing.  3 hours and 45 minutes later, we arrived in Balagues very tired and very sore.  We arrived at our accommodation where we were greeted with an ice cold beer.  Man, that was the best beer ever.  Our room was quite amazing as well.  Cut into stone archways with wooden doors and shutters, maroon tapestries and a canopied bed, it looked like a room in a castle.  Unfortunately, we did not read the small print (ok, not so small) on our peregrino passports that says you must get 2 stamps every day on our journey.  Awww man!  Our only option was this 1 restaurant which was a 20 minute walk away.  So, despite being exhausted and sore, we made the journey to the restaurant.  We pre-ordered (the restaurant actually called us ahead of time to get our order) the grilled cod (salted cod is very famous in Portugal and we had been eating it in a variety of ways since we arrived).  When it arrived, we were both shocked at the ginormous piece of fish that sat between us.  Yikes.  Oh, the lengths you will go to in order to ensure you have the required number of stamps.

121 miles to go….all on foot!
Getting our Pilgrim Passport it’s first stamp of many
We brought some rocks from Arizona as a symbol of “leaving burdens behind” on the Camino
Robyn settling nicely into trekking long distances
First day video recap
The hotel welcomed us with cold beers. Perfect after a day on the Camino!
This was one of favorite rooms of the trip!
The largest piece of seafood we have ever had for dinner!

Day 2:  Balagues to Ponte de Lima – 12 miles/20 kilometers

We hit the trail fairly early again since we had another long day ahead of us.  I forgot to mention that when we began planning this journey, the requirement to acquire your certificate of achievement was to walk at least 100 kilometers.  Since we (Americans) don’t really operate in kilometers, I told Dan we should just make it an even 100 miles.  I was also told by Dan that the average miles per day was 10.  When we set out, I began to question how he managed to sneak in an extra 21 miles?  He then told me that it was actually more than that since we were adding in the spiritual variant!  What?!  I then questioned how we were getting a 10 mile average when these first two days were over 10 and none of the upcoming days were ever under 10.  He then tried to tell me that he said it was the median not the average.  Oh no you don’t…..I know exactly what you said and it was not median.  I have now threatened to record our conversations.  Ahhhh, the conversations you have while walking for many hours.  3 hours and 57 minutes later, we arrived in the city of Ponte de Lima (once again, exhausted and sore….I am sure that surprises you).  Here we had a nice room in the heart of the city.  After a little bit of a rest, we headed out to explore the city and grab some dinner.  It’s amazing how much lighter and faster you feel on your feet once you ditch the 20 pound backpack!

Ticking the the KMs (and miles!) down
Spring time scenery was wonderful
Wonderful trekking
Ponte de Lima – our stop for the night
Our guest room was in a great location in the heart of the town
Enjoying some local lamb after a day of trekking
Day 2 video recap

Day 3:  Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes – 11.6 miles/19 kilometers and 1804 feet/545 meters of elevation gain!

As we were checking out of our room in Ponte de Lima, our young host told us to please enjoy breakfast.  We politely explained that we really weren’t hungry and thanked her.  She got this very concerned look on her face and told us to please take some of the food with us.  We explained to her that we really don’t eat breakfast and typically won’t eat until late afternoon.  She looked a bit horrified, bagged up some croissants and begged us to please take them with us.  We agreed and were on our way.  As we walked along, we both were chuckling at how insistent she was that we have food.  This was a beautiful part of the trek through very lush forests.  The trail was great and the smell of pine permeated the air.  This was really cool….until it wasn’t.  We had to come up and over the mountain!  It was relentless climbing over tree roots and rock gardens….footing very unsure.  Every inch of our lower body was on fire!  I now understood why our young host was so concerned that we were not eating breakfast and didn’t want to take any food with us.  SHE knew what we were going to be facing.  I can’t tell you how relieved we both were when we finally reached the top!  All downhill from here.  We stopped just on the outskirts of town (as did many pilgrims) for a much needed ice cold beer…ok, maybe two.  4 hours and 26 minutes after starting, we arrived in the small town of Rubiaes and checked in.  Unfortunately, this very small town had very few options for both restaurants and lodging.  Since I am way to old (and sleep challenged) to stay in hostels with 30 or more of my closest friends, Dan worked very hard to make sure he booked us private rooms wherever he could.  This was probably my least favorite lodging as we had 2 twin beds that were like sleeping on cement.  Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.  On top of it all, it had started to rain and the only restaurant in town was closing up for siesta when we arrived (we were starving by now).  So, we got to walk there and back twice after our big day!

Across the medieval Ponte de Lima Bridge
You meet many nationalities on the Camino
The trail is starting to get a bit steep!
And even steeper!
The summit was an ideal location to leave symbolic rocks of “burdens left behind”
The Apple watch tells the tale – over 1600 feet elevation on this stage
Video recap
Guest house was a welcome sight after a difficult day!

Day 4:  Rubiaes to Valenca – 10.24 miles/17 kilometers

Today came with rain.  That should make things interesting.  Our host had told us that today would be a much easier day after yesterday.  That was a huge relief.  By the time we got started, the rain had become a steady drizzle.  Not too much trouble, but it did make footing interesting.  A large portion of the path was cobblestone blocks which became slick in the rain.  Other sections were dirt which became mug bogs and required carefully picking our way through.  We were once again enveloped by lush green trees and shrubbery in some areas, beautiful swaths of flowers in other areas, and large vineyards as far as you could see.  We followed streams and rivers with many small waterfalls and farm areas with sheep, lamb and cows.  It was beautiful.  Everywhere we went, locals and fellow pilgrims wished you a Bom Dia (good day) and Bom Caminho (good camino).  3 hours and 28 minutes later, we arrived in Valenca,

wet and bedraggled but feeling pretty good.  Wow….were we acclimating to these long days of walking?  We had a lovely apartment booked inside the fortress walls.  This was our last stop in Portugal before crossing the border into Spain.  I’m not going to lie, I was feeling a little sad to be leaving Portugal behind.  This was my first time here, and I really loved it!  Although very crowded with tourists, we enjoyed wandering the cobblestone alleyways and exploring the small shops and cafes.  In the center of the square we enjoyed some drinks while listening to a man belt out some old American classics.  Most of the pilgrims we encountered weren’t staying in Valenca.  Many pass on through to the town of Tui which is only a mile and a half across the river to Spain.  Since we really wanted one more night in Portugal, we decided to build in a rest day by staying in Valenca and crossing to Tui the following day and staying a night there.  We had a leisurely morning in Valenca before making our way to Tui.

In order to keep this somewhat manageable for you, the reader, I will end this post with the Portugal section of the Camino.  Our next entry will pick up with the Spain portion as we make our way to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela.  We’ve included some video clips in the hopes of giving you a better sense of the experience.  As always, thank you for following along and hope you enjoy!

Vineyards are everywhere on this trek
Cafe’s were a great place to take a brief rest and enjoy well made cappuccinos
Valenca – last stop in Portugal
Walled fortress of Valenca
Video recap of the day

Adventures in Lisbon and Porto

Our adventures this month continue to require maximum flexibility on our part.  The original plan was to work on the boat, supervise the installation of the new standing rigging, and then fly out to Portugal for some exploration before beginning the Camino de Santiago.  We encountered a hang up with the materials for the standing rigging, so we made the decision to head to Portugal early before returning to the boat to finish up the work.

We arrived in Lisbon late in the evening and grabbed a Bolt (like Uber) to our apartment in the heart of Lisbon.  It turned out that our driver was also a tour operator, so we were able to arrange a 9 hour private tour of the highlights in and around Lisbon.

The next day we headed out on foot to explore the beauty of Lisbon.  Lisbon is extremely hilly with many, many staircases throughout the town.  Our apartment was also on the 4th floor, so the amount of climbing we did over the few days we were there was phenomenal (and exhausting).  As with most European cities, the old town was lined with quaint little alleyways and cobblestone roads.  There were many small cafes and restaurants tucked up in alleys and in the main squares.  Cathedrals and churches were all around.  After a long day of exploring the surrounding area, we returned to our room for some rest before heading out later that evening for a 4 hour Portuguese cooking class.

We left a little early for our class to sample some of the local wines and a sour cherry liqueur, Ginjinha, which is a specialty of the area.  Everything was quite delicious.  When we arrived at the cooking school, we were greeted by the chef and met the 10 other people in the class with us.  8 of us were from the U.S. and 2 were from Portugal.  The class was structured a little bit different than ones we have done in other countries.  Here we would be making many different dishes, so each of us took on a variety of different tasks.  Throughout the experience there was wine…..lots and lots of wine!  We began with a charcuterie board of local cheeses, meats and bread as well as a fired chorizo.  Then it was time to cook.  We made cod fish croquettes, chicken gizzards, a marinated chicken, tempura fried long beans, a carrot dish, a rice dish, and an orange dessert.  Once everything was prepared, we all sat down to enjoy the food we had made.  We were sent all the recipes which we can’t wait to try out (maybe not the gizzards) when we get home.

The following day would be our last day in Lisbon.  Our driver picked us up at 9:00 a.m. for a full day of exploring before catching a 7:00 p.m. train to Porto.  Our first stop was a famous pastry shop (Pasteis de Belem) known as the original place of the Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese custard tart.  We bought several to enjoy later (that was a mistake – they are best enjoyed fresh from the oven!) From there, we headed to the river front where we explored a monument dedicated to explorer Vasco de Gama and the famous Belem tower.  We drove an hour outside of Lisbon to a lovely town called Sintra, home of the summer palace of Portuguese royalty.  We climbed steep hills and walked hundreds of steps to explore this amazing garden,  Reguleira, with an “inspiration well” that spiraled deep down into the earth where we then passed through long tunnels before popping out amongst waterfalls.  The grounds were very tropical and lush providing a sense of peace and serenity.  It was definitely scenery fit for a king.  Sintra is also home to Pena Palace, a 19th century castle (and UNESCO world heritage site) built by King Ferdinand.  

Pasteis de Belem – Home of the original Pastel de Nata
Pastel de Nata – the signature Portuguese dessert!
Monastery of Senhora and Tomb of Vasco de Gama
Belem Tower
Vasco de Gama’s starting point in 1497
Inspiration well in Reguleira
Pena Palace – Sintra
Castle fit for a King!

We toured many of the rooms inside the palace

I found it amusing when our driver told us that we would likely spend 2-3 hours in the palace.  Really?  That seemed like a really long time.  Nope, we spent that long!  By the time we hoofed it back down to the car, we were ready to take a break with a ride to our next site….Capo de Roca.  This is the westernmost point of Continental Europe.  The rock formations and crashing surf provided a spectacular backdrop.  There is nothing beyond this point until you hit North America.  Before long, we were making our way back toward Lisbon through a coastal fisherman’s village called Cascais.  The reality is that it was a fisherman’s village of the past.  Now, it is one of the wealthiest areas of Portugal boasting the pseudonym of the St. Tropez of Portugal.  For Dan and I, it was very reminiscent of driving through the ritzy beach towns of Southern California.

Westernmost point in Europe…
With our tour driver – Pramesh from Mozambique
Seaside town of Cascais

It was hard to believe how much we saw in our 9 hour window.  We loved every minute of it, but I would not recommend blazing through all these sites in one day.  Take the time to stop and really smell the roses.  You won’t regret it.  Sadly, it was time for us to say goodbye to Lisbon and make our way to Porto.  I wasn’t super excited by the idea of a 3 hour train ride (and that was the high speed version) nor arriving at our apartment after 10:00 p.m.  It had already been a really long day!

High speed train to Porto

The train ride turned out to be relatively painless and before we knew it, we were in the lovely riverside town of Porto.  Once again, our apartment was on the 4th floor.  The worst part was that there was a flight of stairs to get to the starting floor of 1, and each floor had 2 flights of stairs.  Our apartment was on the top floor which overlooked the city and rooftops which was absolutely stunning!  The downside was there were also 3 flights of stairs IN our apartment.

The next morning, we headed out on foot to explore the historic center of Porto.  Once again, we found ourselves climbing hills and hundreds of stairs to reach the many beautiful churches and cathedrals.  Just like Lisbon, the streets were crawling with people. Despite being April, tourist season was already in full swing….boo!  All around the town, musicians played beautiful music for coins and the hope you’d buy their CD.  The city runs along the river which has 7 beautiful bridges running across it.  On the opposite side of the river, there were many, many port (the wine) makers and tasting rooms.  

Azulejos of the Igreja do Carmo
Porto has a vibrant street music scene

On our next outing, we took the foot bridge across the river in search of some port tastings.  Our first stop was Calem caves where we sampled one port before deciding to move on.  We had been told by a friend to go to a place called World of Wine which consisted of many shops, restaurants and bars.  This was indeed a gem as it was very quiet and free from the hoards of people milling around.  We headed for a spot called Angel’s Share to enjoy a port tasting.  We were seated on a beautiful terrace overlooking the river and city center.  We were given 3 different types of port and an explanation as to what to pair them with.  Our tasting came with a tray of several different items:  cheese, rosemary sourdough crisps, pumpkin jam, carmelized walnuts, and a dark and fruity chocolate truffle.  It was amazing!  I am head over heels in love with the cheeses they make here, and the pumpkin jam they pair them with puts it over the top!

Bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia – home of famous Port wine
Most of the world’s port is produced in this area
Burmester Port wine cellars
Trying some Calem Port
An example of the river boats that delivered Port from the Douro river valley
Fun Port wine tasting at World of Wine

After our tasting we walked the riverfront and came upon this tall building with quite a bit of action going on.  As we wandered in, the walls rose 3 stories high and were lined with books.  The whole place was brightly colored and on the second level an organist played fun music like we were at some kind of old fashioned circus.  There were a couple of stations where you placed an order and received a cod fritter packed with hot, runny cheese and a large glass of port all served up on this small painters pallet that they hung over your thumb.  You could enjoy your treat in the place of walk the riverfront with your goodies and the glass and pallet were your souvenirs to keep.  Now that was fun!

Bacalhau (codfish) and glass of Port to go!

For our last night in Porto, we followed our friend’s advice again and made a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant called Elemento.  We felt very fortunate that we were able to get the reservation as it can be very difficult to get last minute reservations.  We opted to do the chef’s tasting menu which is always a lot of fun.  Tasting menus can always be a little challenging if you are like me and averse to some tastes and textures.  Every item was unique and unusual and everything hot is cooked over an open fire….no ovens or stovetops.  Most of the hot dishes had a bit of a smokey flavor or used a smoky flavored sauce.  We were treated to several seafood and meat tastings which included things like dried fish eggs on mackerel, raw shrimp, and venison loin.  It was a very nice experience.

Elemento Michelin starred restaurant in Porto

We were a little sad to be leaving Porto.  This was definitely one of my favorite stops despite the crowds, but it was time to make our way north and begin our pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago….120 miles of fun filled walking!  Stay tuned as we trek our way from Portugal into Spain to the place where the Apostle, St. James, is interred.

Let The 2024 Adventures Begin

It’s hard to believe that the time had finally come to make our way back to Europe.  This year the trip back to Zoe had us flying by the seat of our pants and following some  rather unconventional routing.  To say that I am a high stress traveler would be a huge understatement and yet, I found myself very comfortably (and calmly) just going with the flow.  Well that’s an interesting twist!

It all began with a Sunday evening wedding in Las Vegas.  Our plan was to leave Vegas Monday morning on a flight to Los Angeles and then on to London.  Dan and I usually fly standby (Dan retired from American Airlines) which already makes travel very unpredictable (and yes, very stressful).  The empty flight we were listed on out of Vegas somehow filled up over night, and things only got worse as the day went on.  As far as the flights to London, Monday was our best shot at getting seats.  Flights to London got fuller and fuller as the week went on.  We made a last minute decision to drive to Los Angeles rather than fly.  Turned out that was a brilliant decision since the next flight out of Vegas cancelled and, we would have missed every flight available to us from Los Angeles to London.  As it was, we arrived at our gate within 30 minutes of boarding and standbys were already receiving their seat assignments.  Not only did we get seats together, but we got the last couple of seats in business class…..woo hoo!

One of the perks of being a retired airline person-standby travel for free

The majority of the flights that leave the US for Europe depart in the evening.  Our flight left early in the afternoon.  That turned out to be a rough flight since I can’t force myself to sleep in the middle of the day.  Oh well, I struggle to sleep on planes anyway.  Once we were cleared in London, our plan was to fly to Marseille, France (the closest airport to Zoe).  Well, that was a bust too.  The earlier flight to Marseille had cancelled which meant the one that we were suppose to take was now full.  My brilliant, travel planner husband quickly listed us on an open flight to Lyon, France.  This worked out great since we got our boarding passes right away despite being standby and seats together without a third person in our row.  Things really seemed to be turning out great!

Three flights and two unplanned rental cars but we made it

During all of this, Dan was quickly readjusting the pick up location of our rental car.  I am always amazed at his ability to pull off these quick itinerary changes on the fly (no pun intended).  From Lyon, we were going to fly to Marseille which would put us at a one hour drive from Zoe (versus 4 hours from Lyon).  At this point, I’ve been up for more than 24 hours and really have no desire to get on yet another plane for another flight to another airport.  We quickly strategized and decided that driving sounded better.  We figured we would drive and enjoy the beauty of the French countryside until Dan felt too jet lagged and tired to continue and, we would stop for the night.

We ended up stopping in the little town of Montelimar, home of the world famous nougat of France.  Dan found us a cute little apartment for the night before continuing on to Zoe the next day.  

Lovely place we booked enroute from Lyon to Marseille area in the French countryside

As we hit the road the following morning, we decided to stop for some much needed coffee.  We pulled over at this massive truck stop and headed inside for coffee.  Not only was the line for Starbucks huge, there were bus loads of kids milling about as if on a field trip.  On a side note, Starbucks in Europe is sooooo much better than in the US!  While Dan waited in line for our cappuccinos, I noticed a large nougat shop within the building.  I figured I’d go in and explore.  The amount and variety of nougat on display was mind numbing, and I’m not sure I even like nougat.  I selected a few small bags of several different kinds to try.  I mean, it’s world famous nougat from this town, you gotta try it….right?  FYI… was delicious!

We finally arrived back to Zoe by late morning.  We also arrived with a very strong Mistral (a strong wind that is famous in this region).  The winds were blowing between 30 and 65 knots!  It was hard to walk or even stand outside.  The waves on the Rhone River and nearby bay were pretty big for such small bodies of water (out on the sea, the waves were averaging over 15 feet!).  Talk about sapping your will to do work.

50 plus knots of Mistral wind greeted our arrival
Upon arrival to Zoe, the Mistral was blowing more fierce than normal. Our boat yard neighbors clocked 65 knots! Locals told us it was one of the worst.
Zoe looking pretty naked without her mast. She is 10 years old and in need of new standing rigging (the cables that secure the mast) especially if we are planning to cross the Atlantic.
60 feet of mast waiting for new goodies. Look how little Dan looks in comparison!
After 10 years in the heat and salt air, the seal around the doors became this gooey, tar like substance. It took me hours to clean the gunk out (never mind the sticky mess that ended up all over the boat which then also needed to be scrubbed)! Luckily, the installation of the new seals was quick and easy.
Our old lazy jacks (which guide the sails back into the bag) were extremely weathered and crusty. Time to make some new ones. Unfortunately, this is not a common knot for me, so I had to carefully deconstruct not only the crazy knots but how each line would run to the mast and through each pulley to the various connection points on the sail bag.
After a full day of frustrating work (and you can see the disaster behind that still awaits), you can’t beat our favorite Sardinian beer!

Zoe is always a mess when we return from being gone for so long, and this time was no exception.  If anything, I think she looked worse.  My heart sank.  The amount of work ahead of us seemed overwhelming, and in this wind the entire boat was shaking and rattling as it howled through the boatyard.  I was very worried the wind was going to knock us off our stand.  It was just as bad at the nearby lodge where we were staying.  The walls and windows shook violently for hours on end.  For me, the worst parts of owning a boat are getting her ready to launch and shutting her down for the season….a lot of work and no fun.  Everything in between is awesome!

These lodges aren’t far from the boatyard
After a hard day of work on Zoe a bit of local red wine and a sunset
Port St Louis du Rhone
Walks from the boatyard
The beach isn’t that far away
Our winter storage yard – this is the third country we’ve stored Zoe

Our plan is to be out here until mid May before returning home for the first birthdays of our granddaughter and grandson, then returning mid July to start the sailing season.  In the meantime, we are having a lot of work done to the boat in preparation for sailing her across the Atlantic to the Caribbean in the next year or two.  We have also been preparing for another bucket list adventure while we are here and out of the water.  While waiting for work to begin, we will be heading to Portugal where we intend to do an over 100 mile trek of the Camino de Portuguese following the path of St. James’ body to his final resting place in the Cathedral de Santiago in Spain.  Stay tuned for some fun and exciting land adventures in Portugal and Spain before we return to Zoe and then home. 

Onwards and Forwards!

1600 Mile Adventure And Our Cruising Season Is A Wrap!

The winds finally decided to let up a bit, so it was time for us to leave Port Grimaud (near Saint Tropez).  This was definitely a hard place to say goodbye to, and Dan and I both discussed how we could possibly keep the boat here for an extended bit of time in the future.  In the end, it was time to shake off the barnacles and get underway.  Our next stop was the Porquerolle Islands.  We had heard many great things about this area and were excited to explore the many hiking trails.  Unfortunately, the anchorages were still ridiculously crowded (despite it being mid-September).  We ended up anchoring for the night in a bay that had a lot of swell, so we left early without really exploring.  It will have to be on our list for next year.

We pushed on to our next stop, the Calanques National Park.  This was a series of incredible fjords cut into the steep cliffs.  Our goal, much to my dismay, was to grab a mooring ball in the main Calanque.  Why dismayed, you might be wondering?  It was a bit windy when we entered the narrow inlet and required you to tie a mooring ball to the front of your boat while taking a very long line from the back of your boat to tie to the cliff wall.  With only two of us on board, this creates a really interesting (and stressful) challenge.  In addition, the pictures showed the boats all tied up nice and tight to one another as if you were in a marina.  Yeah, my stress level was rapidly rising.  Our understanding was to call the port captain, and they would come out to assist you.  Okay, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

Calanque National Park
Entering the Calanque

As we made our way into the entrance, Dan made numerous calls on both radio and phone to which we received no response.  Ugh.  As we sat in the entrance, trying to figure out whether to head back out and anchor off the town, we got a call from the port captain.  He told us to tie up to a ball and free swing, and they would come in a half an hour.  Free swing?  Are you serious?  The other thing we noticed was that many of the mooring balls had already been removed for the season, and there were only a few left.  We came in and grabbed a ball that we felt was best suited for free swinging.  We still weren’t comfortable with this plan, so Dan launched the dinghy and grabbed a line to tie our stern to the cliffs.  This was tricky since the first line we used wasn’t long enough and while Dan was trying to tie our stern, I was having to motor to keep us stern to the cliff, while also letting out some of the front line to get our back line closer to the wall.  Fortunately, another boat had come in right before us and had just finished getting their stern tied, so they came over to help Dan get the line secured.  It took us close to an hour to get ourselves tied up in a way that we felt secure and comfortable.  Later that evening, our very helpful German neighbors invited us over for drinks.  We spent and enjoyable evening sharing stories and swapping tips on various places.

Port Miou
Zoe settled in our her mooring with a stern line to shore
Drone shot of the Calanque (similar to a fjord)
Hiking trail that went right by Zoe

This place was truly amazing!  The water was crystal clear, and the cliffs towered above you all around.  I could see spending a number of days here, but our season was rapidly coming to an end.  Along the cliffs and through the fjords were miles and miles of beautiful hiking, and we spent a few days exploring the trials.  On our second day, we had the opportunity to watch some military recruits doing training drills right behind our boat.  As they ran down the stone steps behind us, they jumped into the water in full fatigues (boots and all) and swam by.  From there, they did an in water obstacle course, climbed the cliff and then jumped from high above.  It was very impressive to witness.  We also did the 1/2 hour walk around the bay to the town of Cassis.  This was another very special town that we thoroughly enjoyed exploring.  We definitely covered a lot of miles during this stop.

French military water training
French military practicing cliff diving?
Charming Provencal town of Cassis
Celebrating Dan’s Birthday with a bottle of wine bought a few years earlier in Croatia
Hiking the National Park

Two days later, we were on our way again.  Next stop….Marseille.  We were a little worried since many cruisers had warned us that the big city of Marseille was not very nice and had issues with crime.  We managed to find a spot at a marina in the old port, well outside of the main city.  As we made our approach to the city of Marseille, we were once again greeted with spectacular views.  On the point, rose the large walls of a citadel looking out over the sea.  The marina was not too far past the breakwater and the citadel and fortress marked each side of the channel leading into the harbor.  We radioed the marina numerous times and got no response.  We were beginning to get frustrated with the lack of communication we were all of a sudden experiencing in this part of the world.  Dan continued to try reaching the marina by both radio and phone.  After a long period, someone came out and helped us side tie to the wall.  Apparently, they were all in a meeting, so they told us to stay put and come back in 20 minutes.

Entering Marseille
Vieux Port of Marseille
Zoe on the Welcome Dock waiting for an assigned berth

We ended up staying side tied to the wall but had to move the boat further up the wall as this would be our spot for the next two days.  The old port of Marseille was a beautiful old city which we wandered each day to explore.  We climbed the streets and a gazillion stone steps (not really a gazillion, but it felt like it) to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde (translates to:  Our Lady of the Guard)that sat perched high on the hill overlooking all of Marseille.  It was incredible to see from faraway, but it was even more spectacular up close and personal.  This is the city’s best known symbol and sits at the highest natural point (489 ft/149 m).  Construction began in 1853 and took over 40 years to complete.  It consists of a crypt, in the Romanesque style, that is carved from the rock.  The upper church is of Neo-Byzantine style and decorated with mosaics.  At the top of the bell tower is a 37ft/11.2 m gold statue of the Madonna and Child which is made of copper and gilded with gold leaf.  There is a section of the basilica where you can see the damaged stonework from bullets during the liberation of France during WWII.

Wandering Marseille
Monument to lost mariners
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde – “Our Lady of the Guard”
World War Two damage to the cathedral
Placard commemorating the WWII Battle

Cathédrale Basilique Sainte-Marie-Majeur
Exploring the Cathedral

Marseille had numerous impressive cathedrals that we explored, as well as quaint, cobblestoned streets.  On our last night, we decided to enjoy a romantic dinner in the square.  We chose a highly reviewed place to try their Bouillabaise (a fish stew that originated in Marseille).  It was quite good.  After an enjoyable dinner, we wandered the streets for a bit before returning to Zoe.  When we got back to the boat, we were quite dismayed to see that the marina had docked a huge catamaran right behind us and a giant power boat to the front, right of our bow.  We were already in a very narrow channel and now sandwiched between several large boats.  Undocking the next day just got a whole lot more challenging.

When in Marseille you must try the local Bouillabaise!
Lots of “street art” in the city

I spent a somewhat sleepless night contemplating our exit and praying that the big cat behind us would leave in the morning before us.  As I am sure you can guess…..he did not.  In the end, we rigged our lines to help us spring off the dock, and Dan skillfully pulled us out of our tight parking space like a pro.  We were now underway across the bay to stage ourselves for our haul out (taking Zoe out of the water and storing her on land) the next day.  Our plan was to head up the river to fill our fuel tanks and then go tie to the wall at the shipyard.  

As we passed the wall, it quickly became clear that tying up there was not going to be an option.  The boats were already rafted to one another!  Ugh!  We continued on our way to the fuel dock only to discover that it was self-serve.  Well, this was going to be fun.  Why are all the challenges coming NOW?  We pulled up to the wall so that I could lasso the cleats and get Zoe tied up.  We soon realized that the gas hose would not reach our far tank.  Rather than drop lines and tie up again on the other side of the boat, we just pulled Zoe as far up the dock as depth would allow.  We squeaked by with barely enough hose to spare.  Then came our next frustration.  The pump would only let you pump 70 liters before stopping and requiring you to put the nozzle back in the pump and start again.  If you didn’t then get it back to the boat and running quick enough, your payment timed out.  On top of all that, the hose had a wicked retracting feature so each time I had to hand it back to Dan on the dock, it retracted with such a force it threatened to pull be overboard.  We played this little game about 5-6 times before we finally had both tanks full.

Self service fuel dock – it was a pain to use!

At this point, we decided to call the nearby marina to see if they could fit us for one night.  They could, and we happily tied up in the town of Saint Louis de Rhône.  We had a rental car booked for the next week, so this location worked the best for us going to pick up the car.  Yeah….another fiasco in the making.  The port captain arranged for a cab ride for us to the town of Port du Bouc, about 35-45 minutes away.  Well, $75 euro later, we arrived to find the rental place all closed up (despite their posted hours saying they were open).  We called the numbers posted and of course no one answered.  We pounded on the doors.  No signs of life.  Our cab driver (a friendly old man) looked very concerned about leaving these non-French speaking Americans in the middle of nowhere (and probably no chance of finding a cab back to the boat).  After about 30 minutes, another cab dropped off someone who said he had spoken to the girl, and she would be there in 15 minutes.  We told our cab driver that we would be okay, and he left (rather apprehensively).  By now, more and more people had shown up waiting to pick up or drop off cars, and our girl was still nowhere to be seen.  After about 40 minutes, she finally arrived.  Dan and I had been standing out in the hot sun for over an hour now before we were finally able to get our car.  Arggghhh!

Roasting in the sun waiting for the small town rental car office to open
Zoe in the marina at Port St Louis du Rhone
Last 2023 sunset onboard Zoe!

Haul out was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. the next day.  Wouldn’t you know, the winds were up and blowing 15-20 knots.  Of course they were!  We can’t ever seem to have a calm day for haul out!  We slowly made our way back down the river, and the marinero had us tie to the wall right in front of the launch ramp.  Well, this was going to be interesting.  We have always gone into a lifting bay, and a large travel lift rolls over and hoists Zoe out in slings.  Here, they drove a tractor and trailer down the ramp and lifted Zoe onto the trailer.  Out she came, rocking and swaying.  Dan and I were white knuckled wondering if she was going to rock right off the trailer.  She didn’t, and all was well.  So, we spent the next several days doing the labor intensive chores of getting Zoe safely prepared for our long absence over winter.  This was the first time that we were tasked with power washing her hulls.  Our previous storage yard always did that for us.  It took two solid days to get her clean, and it was a gross job.  Also probably not a good idea to put the perfectionist in charge of doing it.  I spent most of one day cleaning 1 hull of all the barnacles, hard wormlike things, and other stuff growing on our boat.  Did I mention it smelled like rotten seafood, and I was getting sand blasted by it as it came off?  YUCK!  Needless to say, it is very clear which areas Dan cleaned and which ones I cleaned…haha.

Waiting for liftoff – engines off and season is over!
Tractor getting ready to lift Zoe
Out she comes
Zoe on the move

It took several very long days to get Zoe all squared away, and we were off.  Our plan was to spend a week or more driving through Provence from the Marseille area to Paris where we would fly home.  Our first stop was a quick visit to the town of Arles.  We wandered the town checking out the colosseum and exploring the Van Gogh exhibit.  We then continued on our roadtrip to the town of Nîmes where we found a really lovely apartment. Before leaving the area, we wandered this amazing little town as well.  We explored the many levels of another incredible colosseum….up to incredibly dizzying heights and down to the bowels where the gladiators were staged. We explored the streets, cathedrals and boutiques of the town.  We hit the road once more for another multi-hour drive.  Once again, we found a great little apartment.  We were now in the Chablis region and decided to stop for dinner before checking in.  We found a cute little restaurant on the second floor of a stone building.  We enjoyed a regional tasting menu, and I enjoyed the local Chablis.   At this point, we made the decision that our best shot of getting home (we fly standby and have to try and find flights with our best chance of getting a seat) was the next day.  THE NEXT DAY!!! We were still several hours from Paris.  Ack….talk about stress!  It was disappointing to have cut our trip so short and not get to really explore the countryside, but I was also excited about the idea of getting back home.

Local dog decided to adopt us and scampered into an open car door…she refused to leave and had to be carried out and blocked from jumping in AGAIN!
Van Gogh artwork on display in the town of Arles
One of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters from antiquity
Wandering the old town of Nimes
Maison Carrée in Nimes
A glass of Chablis in the town of Chablis!

To wrap things up, we made it home (there were a few stressful moments) after 14 hours of flying, 3 hours of layover, and being awake for over 24 hours.  We covered 1600 miles in our 3 1/2 months, 4 countries, and numerous islands.  Various events meant we moved at a very rapid pace, and we really hope to revisit some of our favorites at a slower pace next season.  Thank you to all who have joined us on our journey.  We will be back soon with some new land based travel adventures!

A Terrifying Hike, A Weather Forecast Gone Wrong, And Amazing Sights Of The French Riviera

It was with great reluctance that we left the city of Ajaccio, Corsica.  This place had truly been a magical stop, and we could have easily spent weeks here.  It is definitely high on my list of places to return to in the future.  We got underway fairly early in the morning to make the 6 hour passage to a place called Girolata. Girolata is unique because it is shut off from the rest of the island by high mountains and deep ravines, making it only accessible by sea.  Perched high on the outermost point is a stunning looking castle.  It appears to have been restored as it looks like something out of a Disney movie.  Tucked deep into the corner of the bay, well protected from most winds (and invading pirates/mauraders back in the day) lies a mooring field in very shallow waters.  In here, we would take a mooring both bow and stern to keep us from swinging, since they have packed in many mooring slots.  The tender greeted us outside of the mooring field, asked our draft, and told us to follow him.  As Dan watched the depth shallow up severely, he called out to the guy, “are you sure it is deep enough for us?!”  Our depth meter was reading 1.2 meters, and we draw 1.3 meters!  The guy assured us it was fine and tied us up very close to the rocky cliffs on shore.  It was definitely super shallow here.  As a matter of fact, we watched a monohull come in and quickly run aground.  The tender driver then needed to help drag him out deeper and get him tied up before he swung into the shallows again.

We quickly headed to shore and began wandering around.  Our first order of business, go see the castle (of course)!  We tried and tried, but could not find a pathway that wasn’t blocked by signs that said private property/no access.  We stopped by the port captain’s office to inquire about how to get there.  We were told that there was no access to the castle at this time because it is surrounded by privately owned properties.  He said it would probably be another two years before they were able to identify and create a route that avoided the private properties.  Needless to say, we were very disappointed.  As you can imagine, it didn’t take long to explore the tiny town which consisted of homes, restaurants and bars.  All day long, day trip excursion boats off loaded hoards of people to explore the little, isolated village before returning them to the bigger cities. Oh, and the free roaming cows on the beach added some fun to the mix.  We had originally planned to spend a few nights here but quickly decided that one night was enough.  We jumped in for a swim which did not disappoint.  Below us was an aquarium busy cleaning our hulls.  I set off to explore the jagged, rocky coastline.  Before long, I had a menagerie of fish following me around and swimming up to check me out.  These guys, some quite big, were not skittish in the slightest.  The bay was surrounded by towering rock cliffs with many tree lined hiking paths, so we decided we would go for a hike the next morning before leaving Girolata behind.

Cow getting a suntan on the beach
Girolata’s off limits and well preserved citadel
Zoe in the mooring field
One of the more aggressive hikes we’ve done!
This part of Corsica is especially beautiful

In the morning we headed to the start of the trail where 3 different hikes were posted.  One was an hour and 15 minutes, one was an hour and a half, and the final one was 3 and half hours.  We opted for the hour and a half hike, and off we went.  The hike started off following the shoreline through a tree-lined path offering lots of shade.  Up, up, up we went.  There were no more signs along the path, just yellow paint bands on trees and rocks to mark the way.  Before long, climbing and scrambling over rock began.  Did I mention that we were now several hundred feet above the rocky sea below?  Or that we were on a very narrow path, with unsure footing, and nothing to stop our death plunge into the shallow sea below?  Yeah, my fun meter just took a huge dip toward zero.  As we continued along our route, and the climbing got steeper and more precarious, we began to express our concern that this trail was winding deeper along the bay and not making it’s way inland to complete the loop.  We were nearing the 45 minute mark at which point it should have begun to turn inland.  We continued on further before deciding that we had definitely taken the wrong trail.  From what we could see ahead, we were on the 3 1/2 hour hike with no drinking water.  We decided to turn around and go back the way we came.  Awesome!  I was beyond excited to now have to down climb all those hairball sections we had just come through.  Needless to say, I spent some of the descent on my ass, crab walking down the steep rocks.

Once back on board, we discussed our track back out of the bay to ensure that we did not run aground.  We quickly dropped lines from the 3 mooring balls we were tied to and made our way out of the bay.  Our next and final stop on the island of Corsica was the town of Calvi.  It was a sunny, hot day with no wind, so we motored our way north.  As we arrived into Calvi, we were once again greeted by the towering walls of a magnificent fortification.  You just can’t get tired of the amazing sights on this island.  The anchorage was pretty far from the town, so we opted for the mooring balls right outside the marina and heart of town.  We spent the next 3 days exploring the fortification, hiking along two of the bays, and climbing to a very scenic overlook.  We were really struggling with leaving Corsica.  This was truly a magical island, but all good things must come to an end.  We had our weather window to cross over to the French Riviera on the mainland.  It was going to be a 15 hour crossing, so we decided to leave around 1:30 p.m. in order to arrive in the anchorage at sunrise.

Approaching Calvi
Wandering the old fortress at Calvi
Waiting for sunset over the Old City
Zoe in the mooring field at Calvi

We quickly got underway and made our way out to sea.  As the hours slipped away, we soon noticed that the wind was not dropping with the sunset like the forecast had shown.  Not only was the wind building, but the seas we were suppose to have behind us did not play out either.  Not only were the seas much bigger than forecasted, but they were coming from all directions making for an extremely rough ride.  About 1/2 way into our journey, both Dan and I wondered if maybe we should have turned back.  Things got even better as these giant, thunderstorm clouds started building on the horizon.  Before long, the lightning began…..yeah….this was a whole lot of NOT fun!  We managed to sail the entire passage (a rarity out here) with a reefed main and genoa.  Because we sailed at a much faster speed than under motor, we arrived way before sunrise.  As we made our way into an anchorage outside of Monaco, it quickly became clear that this was going to be problematic.  Our charts showed that it was okay for boats under 20 meters to anchor behind the yellow buoys, but the buoys themselves showed no anchoring and no motoring.  Outside the markers was too deep for us, never mind it was still dark out which added to the challenge of finding a safe spot.  We both decided that trying to force this was not a good plan, so we motored along the coast for another hour before arriving in a mooring field outside of Villafranche.  By now, the sun was coming up, and we quickly grabbed a mooring ball.  After getting ourselves secured, the very friendly mooring ball operator came out and gave us all the scoop on the area before leaving us to get some much needed rest.  Of all the years that we have done overnight passages, Dan and I both agreed that this was the absolute worst one we have ever done.  We also agreed that next time, we would put the seas behind us and head for Genoa, Italy instead of Monaco, France.  After all, it’s not like we had some place to be….we blow with the wind!

A huge cruise ship lights up the nighttime seas
A sight for sore eyes after a hard passage – Monaco!

Villafranche turned out to be an awesome stop.  While the large anchorage tended to fill up with cruise ships and billionaire luxury yachts (and a few sprinklings of boaters like us), we were blissfully tucked away on our ball out of the chaos.  Here we were surrounded by towering cliffs with beautiful villas perched high on the hills.  The waterfront housed a multitude of restaurants and shops, and looking out over the bay sat another fortification.  Thanks to a train that ran above the waterfront, we were able to go and explore Monaco and old town Nice, leaving Zoe safely behind.  Monaco was as you would expect.  The harbor was full of extremely expensive, high end yachts, high end apartment complexes loomed all around, and the streets were lined with the most exotic cars you can imagine.  We were able to catch the changing of the guard at the palace which was pretty cool.  All in all, Monaco wasn’t really my cup of tea.  I much prefer the old cities and quaint towns of the past.  I did enjoy Nice which had a mixture of modern flair, as well as cobblestone alleyways with cafes and shops.

Exploring Monaco
Monaco Cathedral
Changing of the Palace Guard
Wandering Monaco
Old Town Monaco
Monaco harbor from the Citadel
Zoe in the mooring field at Villefrance sur Mer
Lovely cobblestoned streets of Villefranche
Cockpit view of Villefranche
Baguette in hand!
Trompe o’oeil style church
Villefranche castle grounds
Old Nice
Nuff said!
Cote d’Azur beaches
Crowded even in September
Wandering Nice
Nice Old City

Once again, we were monitoring a weather situation and trying to make arrangements for a marina berth to ride it out.  Another mistral was on its way bringing heavy rain, thunderstorms, and 30-40 knot winds.  We got lucky and finally landed a spot outside of Saint Tropez in Port Grimaud which is in a lagoon at the end of the bay.  It has been called the Venice of France.  We were super excited to spend a few days here exploring the canals by dinghy and walking the surrounding area, including the famous Saint Tropez.  As predicted, our first couple of days were spent hunkered down in the pouring rain.  We did manage to get off the boat each day to explore the area on foot.  When the rain finely broke on the third day, we jumped on the ferry that runs from the marina over to Saint Tropez.  We wandered the harbor lined with billionaire mega yachts, climbed the narrow alleyways with cute little cafes and high end boutiques, and headed up the hill to the citadel.  This was our favorite part of Saint Tropez.  Besides the amazing views, the citadel housed an incredible maritime museum that we fully enjoyed exploring.  I will let the pictures do the talking.  After the citadel, we headed back down to the waterfront to try out Saint Tropez’s famous dessert/pastry, Tarte Tropezienne.  I’m not sure having it in Saint Tropez was our most brilliant idea since 2 pastries with 2 cappuccinos came with a hefty price tag of $54 euros!  Ouch!  

Home for a few days while waiting out some bad weather
Zoe ready for the storm.
So called “Venice of France” We can see why!
Grimaud canals
St Tropez Citadel
St Tropez views
St Tropez Citadel
Art exhibit of St Tropez Citadel
Now that’s a moat
Exploring the excellent St Tropez maritime museum
Serious business
Replicas of French man-o-war’s
Wandering the old streets of St Tropez
Iconic St Tropez patisserie of Senequier
Tropezienne pastry
Wow. That’s a lot of money for two tarts and two Capuccinos!

We had 4 nights booked in the marina (I use the term loosely since they side tied us to a wall by the fuel dock).  The first 2 days were wind and rain, and the 4th day was the worst of the forecasted mistral.  This meant that all of our real fun and exploration needed to take place on that third day.  So, when we returned from Saint Tropez, we ticked off our final “must do.”The last thing we wanted to experience during our stay was a happy hour cruise through the canals of the lagoon.  We loaded up the dinghy with a charcuterie plate, a couple glasses of wine, and a speaker for music.  Off we went for a sunset cruise through the canals.  As expected, it was magical.  The canals are lined with beautiful homes and quaint little walking bridges.  This has definitely been one of my more favorite stops.

Sunset happy hour on the canals of Port Grimaud
Charcuterie, wine, music and great scenery. Bliss.

The following morning, the mistral arrived as expected.  Before long, the winds were howling at 35-45 knots.  Spindrift was swirling out in the anchorage, and I found myself grateful that we were securely tied to the wall (which was concrete and therefore not pitching around trapping us on the boat).  Although these strong mistrals can get a bit scary, I was also grateful that it came during daylight hours.  As you know, things are always scarier in the dark of night (haha)!  The last positive thing about a nasty wind storm is that a week or two of beautiful weather follows in its wake.  We still have 101 miles left to cover before taking Zoe out of the water and closing out our sailing season.  It’s hard to believe our season is almost over.  It’s been our shortest season yet while covering the largest amount of miles.  Tomorrow we will take advantage of the nice weather window to slowly make our way to Marseille.  Stay tuned for our final installment of Zoe’s sailing season before we set off for a little inland exploration of the French countryside.

There’s A Storm A-Brewin’

It was well forecasted.  The wicked mistral had finally reared its ugly head.  We had been watching the forecast for nearly a week and each day praying that it would moderate or just plain go away.  It was not going to be pretty.  Each day we watched, and each day the forecasted winds grew along with the number of days.  Before long, it went from 1-2 days to 4-5 days.  Wind gusts were going to be over 50 knots.  Ugh!  My fun meter was rapidly approaching zero.  We were fortunate that Dan found a marina spot for us….sort of.  Unfortunately, this marina was not protected by a breakwater, and was on a floating pontoon which was only installed for the summer months.  While perfectly safe, it did guarantee that both the pontoon and the boats would be pitching around violently….and they were!  This was going to be a long and painful few days.  To make matters worse, we were expecting our next set of guests, one being new to the sailing life.  Emil and Carrie would be joining us, and we were really hoping this would not spook them off.  Emil had sailed with us once before and had unfortunately been indoctrinated by a nasty storm at the beginning of his trip.  He may start thinking this is how all sailing journeys begin!

Dan I spent the day getting Zoe prepared for what was to come.  We secured spring lines to minimize our side to side movement.  We went to the nautical shop and bought some steel spring line dampeners and chain.  These attached to the dock with chain and then to our lines to help ease the snapping pressure on the lines.  We had everything rigged and felt pretty good.  That evening we headed into town for some pizza and ended up sitting at a table next to another cruising couple.  We learned that they were out in the anchorage, and they gave a shudder when we told them where we were tied up.  They explained to us how rough it was on these piers with the boats pitching one way and the pier pitching another.  Needless to say, we were a little concerned.  They tried to make us feel better by reassuring us that our catamaran probably would not pitch around as much as a monohull. 

Ouch…this wind forecast is not pretty

The storm arrived the following day and quickly escalated.  We watched a couple of boats come in early, and it was a nightmare.  One very large catamaran required 3 marineros, one who was on a high speed tender, to assist them with docking.  They had 3 very failed attempts to get the boat docked, and in the end, one of the marineros jumped on board and docked it for them while the others jumped on board to quickly tie them up.  The first night of the storm, we were up all night long, taking only brief catnaps.  The wind howled, the boat cracked and creaked like it was ready to explode, and the dock pitched violently.  Winds became sustained at 25-35 knots and gusts went from 40-50 knots.  At one point, the chain on our leeward (the side away from the wind) stern line snapped, and we were no longer tethered to the dock on one corner.  Luckily, we still had 8 other lines holding us in place.  When we hit a brief lull in the wind, we reattached the stern line and added another.  By the end, we had 10 lines to various points on our boat.  Most of the wives and kids vacated their boats for the comfort of a hotel, and left their husbands to oversee the safety of the boat.  Not me….I got to stay for the fun!  For 2 1/2 days, we were unable to safely get off Zoe.  The boat was pitching up and down, and the dock was pitching side to side.  The waves inside the bay were 3-4 feet and spraying up and over our decks. So, we rode it out with Zoe.  By the third day, the gusts had come down a bit, so we could get off the boat when there was a lull in the wind.  Of course when we returned, so had the winds and getting on board was quite harrowing.  We managed to stall our guests for another two days in order for the wind and swell to continue it’s decline.  In the end, we were stuck in this “marina” for 6 days!  We were definitely itching to get going. 

This so called “marina” had a lot of chop that pitched us around
Video is the best way to show what the four days of rocking and rolling looked like

Our guests arrived for our last night in the marina, and by early morning we were back under way.  As we exited the Golfo di Aranci, we were treated to a couple of dolphins bidding us farewell.  Our next two days were spent in the beautiful Maddalena Islands off the island of Sardegna.  Here, we explored the crystal turquoise waters, rock reefs, and made an attempt to see one of the famous pink sand beaches.  Unfortunately, you are forbidden from walking or even swimming at the beach.  We were hoping to land the dinghy and hike to an overlook above the beach, but the water was very choppy and there was no nice place to put the dinghy.  So we had to try and take pictures from a distance while getting beat up by the swell and wake from the many other boats coming in to see the beach.  By the time we got back to Zoe, Carrie and I were soaking wet.

A little kayak fun with out new guests
The beauty of the Maddalena islands
Robyn at the wheel
Preparing to grab a national park mooring ball
Unfortunately the mooring balls were very close to our neighbors!
New guests enjoying life on Zoe

After two days, we had a decent weather window to cross from Sardegna to Corsica (the area between the two islands is notorious for funneling wind between the two and making things nasty).  Our destination was the beautiful city of Bonafacio, far up in an amazing fjord.  As we cruised toward the fjord entrance, we saw houses that were perched precariously on the cliffs overlooking the sea.  Entering the fjord, you are surrounded by these amazing limestone cliffs.  Before long, a stunning citadel greeted us, and the bay was lined with incredible looking restaurants and shops.  This was going to be a fun stop!  Our first adventure took us up the steep hill to a nature trail along the cliffs.  Here, we had panoramic views of the sea and the island.  There were also some scattered ruins.  From there we headed to the other side of the cliffs where the fortification stood.  We entered the walled city through massive doors that still housed the original equipment to raise and lower the gates.  Inside the walls were quaint little streets filled with shops, restaurants and cafes.  It was definitely one of the prettiest places we have visited.

The fjord city of Bonifacio!
Bonifacio – One of our favorite stops
Amazing hikes and views
The old fortress city of Bonifacio
Wandering the ancient streets
A stop for crepes and beer – only in france!
Bonifacio by night

The next day, we rented a car and headed inland for some further exploration of the island of Corsica.  Our first stop was a quaint little winery where we tasted some very nice wines from the region (which of course we bought).  We continued on our winding, hilly ascent to the town of Sartene.  We took in the sights, had a nice lunch in the square, and then headed off for some hiking along the coastline.  While we were wandering the town, Dan got a call from the marina telling us we needed to leave.  Uh, that’s not going to work….we are an hour away from the boat.  We had originally booked for one night, but after seeing how beautiful Bonafacio was we asked to stay one or two more nights.  The girl had told us it was perfectly fine, and we could pay the following day.  We were not happy.  In the end, they gave in and let us stay the 2nd night, but said there was absolutely no way for the 3rd night as they were booked full!  Why were they suddenly booked full?  You guessed it….heavy winds were forecasted which is also why we had wanted the third night as well.  We sadly got underway early the next morning. On a positive note, we had a cracking down wind sail on only a reefed genoa.  This area of the Med is definitely a lot more windy than the parts of Greece we had grown use to.

Road trip!
Winery Domaine Saparale
Vineyards during harvest season
Ancient inland city of Sartene
Hiking the Bruzzi Trail
Bruzzi trail charms
Leaving Bonifacio
25 -30 knots of wind on a dead run under reefed genoa sail. Stress free!

We spent the next night anchored along a big sand beach before heading to our next anchorage outside the town of Propriano.  The wind had kicked up higher than expected, along with the swell in the bay.  We took the dinghy and headed into town.  I found myself really happy that I had showered before this excursion since Carrie and I spent most of the ride getting doused in salt water.  Unfortunately, our timing was not ideal so when we arrived in town, everything was closed up for siesta.  We wandered the streets for a bit and then headed to the church at the high point of the town.  Once again, we had awesome views.  Since nothing was open, we headed back to the boat and made the quick decision to move to a more sheltered part of the bay.  This turned out to be a much better decision.  Not only was the water super calm, but we were able to grab a nice mooring ball just outside a quaint little town.  As I got busy making dinner, we noticed a large military looking ship coming in.  It was not just coming in….it was coming straight for us!  Uh oh, looks like we are getting boarded.  Sure enough, the big ship launched it’s dinghy containing 4 heavily armed and uniformed men.  They tied up to us and climbed on board.  They were the customs enforcers of France.  They spent the next 1/2 hour scouring all our paperwork, asking questions, and eventually searching our boat.  Can’t say we’ve ever had THAT experience before.  In the end, they said we were good and went on their way.

Some more kayak fun at a remote beach anchorage
Zoe at anchor
Drone shot of the amazingly clear waters of Corsica
Customs boarding party at the ready
Zoe was boarded and searched and all was OK!

The next morning we made our way to the capitol of Corsica, Ajaccio.  Our plan was to grab a mooring ball outside of one of the marinas.  It didn’t take long before we discovered that was not going to happen.  The mooring field was filled with derelict boats both on balls and anchored around them.  We then cruised to the closest anchorage and that was a no go as well.  We headed to the marina (which didn’t look overly appealing either) and asked for a berth.  They told us the tender would be with us once they finished with someone else.  No one ever came, and they stopped answering our calls.  We sat circling in a narrow channel for 30 minutes before a different marina responded to our radio calls and said they would take us.  Talk about a blessing in disguise.  It was a beautiful marina, behind an actual breakwater, in the heart of town.  We were all super excited about our new home for the next few days.

Wonderful Ajaccio, Corsica
Ajaccio sunset with Emil and Carrie
One last dinner aboard before our guests make a sad departure

After 2 days of exploring the city of Ajaccio, we sadly bid farewell to Emil and Carrie, our last guests of the season.  Dan and I decided to go for a walk around the outskirts of the city and happened upon a bunch of American jeeps, tanks, trucks, and weapons from the World War II era.  We soon discovered that 80 years ago today (Sept. 9, 1943), Corsica was liberated by the Americans.  There would be huge celebrations throughout the city to commemorate this historical event, and we were smack in the middle of it!  Flowered wreaths were laid at the base of the monument, the Governor addressed the crowd, and all the branches of service were present.  The color guard did their flag ceremony and the band rang in a most amazing parade of foot soldiers, vehicles, and weaponry from WWII.  The soldiers wore uniforms of that era, and the ladies were decked out in attire for that period as well.  It was quite a sight to see, and gave Dan and I the chills being here to witness it.  Two fighter jets came roaring in over the crowd and it just about brought tears to your eyes as the afterburners shook you to your core.  This has definitely been another destination highlight for me.  Tomorrow, we will bid a sad farewell to Ajaccio as we make our way north on the island of Corsica.  We will only have 2 or 3 more stopovers before we make our crossing to the mainland of southern France.  Stay tuned for more adventures in France!

Great day to be an American in Corsica!
Authentic Sherman tank from WW2
Amazing display of American military vehicles from the WW2 liberation of Corsica
Re-enactment of WW2 American Soldiers
Sherman tank on the move!!
What a great flyover!!!

181 Miles Under Darkness of Night

We left the island of Favignana bright and early (6:45 a.m.) for our 33 hour passage across the Tyrrhenian Sea to the island of Sardegna (Sardinia).  We had our perfect weather window to cross safely and be able to sail a decent amount of the passage.  We sailed through the day and night and into the next day.  The passage wasn’t too bad during the night.  Most of the fishing vessels and cargo ships were pretty far away from us.  Since there was barely a sliver of a moon which did not rise until almost dawn, we had a spectacular view of the stars, the Milky Way, and Starlink.  If you haven’t seen Starlink in the sky, it’s quite crazy.  It appears as a long line of large, bright dots streaking across the sky.  Thanks to favorable winds, and motor sailing when they died, we managed to average 6.1 knots of speed and arrived on the southern coast of Sardegna earlier than expected.  The first few anchorages we checked out were packed with boats!  Ugh….no thanks.  Eventually, we found a HUGE, wide open sandy bay with Turquoise blue water.  Now we are talking!  We were anchored down and ready for a nap by 2:30 p.m. (32 hours later).

Passage plan
And we’re underway!
Half way there!
Land ho!
Beautiful Golfo de Palmas
Amazing turquoise waters
Exploring the area by kayak

After 2 relaxing days at anchor, it was time to start making our way north.  Our goal was to cruise the western side of Sardegna.  It is considered the more wild side of the island with far less boat traffic than the eastern side.  Part of the reason for this is that the western side becomes very untenable unless you have just the right forecast of winds.  We did!  The prevailing winds here come from the northwest which is why the western side is very exposed.  The winds for the next week were coming from the NE and SE.  When we did get WNW winds, they were very light.

We departed the anchorage early again to make our way to Isola Di San Pietro and the city of Carloforte.  We were offered a great marina price right in the heart of the city, so we eagerly accepted it.  Carloforte is a popular resort tourist destination, and we arrived the day before Ferragosto (a national holiday in August in which many Italians take the entire month off).  We wandered the beautiful streets and attempted to make a reservation for dinner.  One highly rated restaurant had nothing for the next several days.  We found another highly rated one which said they could get us in at 10:00 p.m.  Seriously?  I don’t eat dinner at 10:00….I’m getting ready for bed!  Well, we decided we needed to try it since Carloforte is notorious for their tuna.  Long story short, the food was tasty but overpriced, and the service was not very good.  All in all, we were pretty disappointed given the cost of dinner and the lost night.  The next night, we went to a very highly reviewed pizza place on the waterfront.  They were able to squeeze us in at 7:00 (when they opened), and it was one of the best meals we’ve had (and 1/2 the price)!  We spent both our afternoons here going for bike rides around the salt ponds and taking long walks.  We even got to see the wild flamingoes that hang out in the salt ponds.  We left relatively early once again since we had a 45 mile passage to our next point of interest.  

Wonderful town of Carloforte
Each can of the locally caught tuna was around 30 euros! That’s over 30 US dollars. No thanks!
Local wild flamingoes

Our next stop was Tharros, “The ancient city kissed by the sea.”  As we made our way toward the anchorage, I noticed a shadow gliding beside the boat.  It wasn’t long before we were greeted by a very large, solitary dolphin who decided to play in our bow spray and follow along beside us.  After our brief encounter, he disappeared.  We entered the bay and grabbed a mooring ball just beneath the watch tower.  In the morning, we took the dinghy in to go explore the ancient ruins.  We walked the ancient basalt roads that meandered above and along the sea.  Tharros is said to be one of the most important cities founded by the Carthaginians in Sardegna in the 7th century BCE.  Some centuries earlier, this area was settled because it was known for an abundance of natural resources, and the presence of a safe harbor offering protection from the strong Mistral winds (those NW winds I was telling you about).  Because of this, it made for an ideal place to engage in trade and cultural exchanges with the rest of the Med.  The ruins are scattered over a large stretch of the peninsula.  Here you can see several thermal buildings, columns, several temples, a water reservoir, and sewage structures from ancient times.  We also climbed to the top of the Spanish watch tower (added during the kingdom of Arregon) for some spectacular views.  From there, we walked to the very end of the peninsula, did a little bushwhacking down to the sea and then back up to the old lighthouse before heading back to Zoe to get underway.  We made a brief overnight stop in another large, wide open bay before making our way to the city of Bosa the following morning.

Exploring the ruins of Tharros
Zoe framed by the ancient columns
Up the Spanish Tower
Hiked to the lighthouse on the end of the Cape
Long hike!
Drone picture of the Tharros anchorage

Bosa is a beautiful and colorful little town that lies along a river bank.  At the mouth of the river, there is a wall that the Coast Guard allows you to tie up to for free for 24 hours.  Since the anchorage looked pretty crowded, we opted for the free wall tie.   The town itself was about a 30 minute walk, or you could take your dinghy up the river.  Having never been there and unsure what the river navigation and tie up options were, we chose to do the walk (we needed the exercise anyway).  Thankfully, they did an excellent job with sidewalks (meaning they actually had them!), so we had an easy walk to the town.  As promised, it was a really special little town that ran along a wide riverbank.  I was kicking myself later for not taking the dinghy with some wine and cheese for a sunset cruise up the river before tying up for a dinner along the river’s edge.  It is definitely on my list for next time (as well as staying for more than one day).  We stumbled upon a quaint little wine bar serving local wines.  The owner/server explained to us that these were wines from his vineyard, so we happily tried a couple he recommended (glasses, not bottles….in case, you were worried).  He also served us an amazing plate of locally produced meats and cheeses to enjoy with our wine.  He was incredibly welcoming and seemed to enjoy the oddity of these Americans off the beaten path.  Of course, we purchased two bottles to take back to the boat for future enjoyment.  This was definitely one of my favorite stops in Sardegna.

Public dock on the Bosa River
Colorful town of Bosa
Enjoying local Sardinian appetizers

From Bosa we headed to Alghero which is a rather good sized city on the island.  Here we would be picking up our first guests of the season (Dan’s nephew Terry, and his fiance Fran).  Our marina for the next two nights was right outside the castle walls.  Sardegna definitely has some of the most amazing walled cities that we have seen on this trip.  We enjoyed two nights exploring the town and enjoying the local cuisine.  Dan ordered horse one night, much to my dismay.  He said it was amazing!  I refused to try it.  Doesn’t matter if they are bred here for the sole purpose of consumption….I just cannot unsee that image.  The next night, we had suckling pig (a specialty of the area).  I know, I know!  How on earth can you eat THAT?  Maybe if I had owned a baby pig, I would not have been able to order it….but I haven’t, so I did.  It was delish!

Town of Alghero
Castle views from Zoe
Ancient fortifications
Strolling the castle walls
Happy couple!
My nephew and his fiancé joined us in Algerho

We set sail 2 days later (and yes!  We actually got to sail) for an anchorage known as Porto Ferro.  We chose a short 3 hour passage, since this was the first time our guests had been on a sailboat.  We arrived in a big, beautiful bay with very few boats and dropped anchor.  We explored a little bit of the the land and some very interesting ruins right above the beach.  Since we wanted to show our guests as much of the island as we could in the one week they were with us, we were off and running the very next day.  From here, we headed to a bay known for its turquoise blue waters (Della Pelosa).  On our way, we had several dolphin sightings off in the distance.  Prior to reaching the bay, we had to navigate through a very narrow and shallow channel surrounded by rock reefs.  Here you had to keep a careful watch out and follow the navigation markers very closely.  This is made more fun by the number of boats coming and going.  While Dan drove, the 3 of us positioned ourselves at the front of the boat as spotters for any sort of trouble.  Once through, we headed to the bay which was quite full of boats.  The thing that stinks most about these bays this time of year is that they are packed with boats of every size and kind imaginable, but once the sun starts to drop, many of them leave creating lots of room (but we don’t come into anchorages at night, so we have to squeeze in where we can).  We carefully picked a nice spot leaving ample space to others.  You know how that goes, we were quickly surrounded by very large power boats.  Then it go worse!  A 90 foot mega yacht chose to anchor near his friend (one of our powerboat neighbors) leaving him only 20 meters away from us!  They were close enough we could hear the pop of the champagne cork they were serving up.  I was not a happy camper.  We all watched anxiously every time they pivoted to make sure their stern deck and staircase (yes, they had a staircase into the water) didn’t bump us.  Fortunately, they left before sunset, and the remainder of our night was uneventful.

Porto Ferro
Boat shenanigans
Taking the dinghy to shore to explore
Amazing turquoise waters of Pelosa
Sand as far as the eye can see at Pelosa

We departed the next morning for the town of Castelsardo….another hilltop castle fortress.  Here we had our first new experience of 6 years sailing in the med….fog.  A dense, wet fog that enveloped us in invisibility.  Well, isn’t that just great!  If I thought night sailing was a little unsettling from a visibility perspective, this was far worse.  Off in the distance, a deep horn sounded off…..a sign that something very large was out there hidden in the mist.  Luckily, these big guys are on AIS which allows us to see them and track them on our screen.  It also tells us how far away they are, what our closest point of interception will be and at what time.  Fortunately, he was well behind us and would not cross our path.  The down side of this set up is that not all private boats (including those most dreaded fishing boats) have AIS, so you are flying blind when it comes to them.  For this we fired up our radar and hoped it worked well at marking them.  As we were finally within sight of our destination, the sun managed to burn off the fog giving us clear sight into the bay.  We were also treated to a pair of dolphins that surfaced and came and played in our bow spray.  Once we were tied up, we rented a couple of scooters and headed up to the castle to check it out.  It provided some spectacular views of the surrounding area, and housed a lot of very cool artifacts. We cruised around on the scooters and checked out some ruins from the Bronze Age as well as other views over the island and sea.  This was definitely another favorite stop of mine, and I hope to return for a longer stay in the future.

Some dolphins came to play!
Arriving Castelsardo rocking their new crew shirts
Wandering the picturesque alleyways
Up up and more up to the castle
Rented a scooter to better explore. That’s Castelsardo over our shoulder

Our next passage would be our longest one yet with our guests, over 40 miles.  Dan and I were up before the sun to get underway.  Watching the sun come up over the hilltop castle was quite beautiful.  From here, we were headed to the famous Maddalena Islands.  That can’t be crazy in August, right?  La Maddalena is an archipelago and a National Park.  The islands are all composed of red granite and have very little vegetation.  All of the islands are surrounded by both above and below water rock outcroppings requiring very careful navigation.  While they are a very spectacular sight, they can be disastrous to your boat.  Well pulled into the very crowded anchorage of Cala Giorgio Marino (I know, you’re shocked it was crowded!).  With boats coming and going at regular intervals, we actually lucked out and grabbed one of the two mooring balls still open.  We spent a glorious day swimming despite the power yachts racing in and out of the anchorage creating 2 foot swells in the water.  Terry and Fran took a couple of excursions on our kayak to some beautiful pink sand beaches to explore.  There is a great deal of red coral in Sardegna which creates the beautiful pink sand beaches throughout the area.  Unfortunately, most of these beaches/islands are forbidden to explore in order to reduce the impact and destruction of them.

Beautiful anchorages of the Maddelenas
Terry and Fran with some kayak fun

Our last stop in the Maddalena’s was Cala Stagnali.  This was a beautiful little bay with a very tricky entrance.  The inlet is very narrow, surrounded by rock reefs, and gets very shallow quickly (2 meters….we draw 1.3)  You have to line up with a series of markers to safely guide you into the bay.  The best part of this bay is that there are very few boats.  We easily found a nice spot in 2 meters of water and dropped anchor.  Because of all the rock outcroppings, it made for great snorkeling.  Later in the day, we headed in to explore the geological and maritime museums.  From there, we headed off on foot to explore through beautiful pine forests and sandy beaches.  This was another place that met my criteria for “must come back” (not crowded and great swimming/snorkeling). That night we had an extra treat when we saw the water sparkle with bioluminescent plankton. Dan and Terry jumped in the dark water and witnessed the magic of dancing lights with every motion as they swam.

Watching for shallows as we enter the cove
Exploring the local museum
Hiking Isla Caprera
Mandatory Gelato stop
And that’s a wrap – Terry and Fran return back to the States

We had now arrived at the end of our journey with Terry and Fran.  We made our way to the city of Olbia where they would fly out later that day.  We had also booked into a marina to ride out a very nasty storm on its way.  Luckily Dan booked us early as many of the marinas were already full and could not take us.  Unfortunately, the one that could take us was basically a floating pontoon that is only in place for summer.  Not only did they jack up their rates for the storm, but there is no breakwater, and the pontoons are pitching around.  As I finish up this tale, we are seeing 35 knot winds, gray skies, and impending rain (and this isn’t even the worst of the storm).  I will let you know how we faired in our next blog post!  Until then, wish us luck!

I See Dead People

Gotcha!  No, we really did see dead people, but it’s too early in the story.  Be patient, it’s coming!

After 8 days rockin’ and rollin’ on mooring balls in the Aeolian Islands, we decided it was time to head back to the big island of Sicily.  We had a fairly long passage on the open sea to our first destination, Cefalu.  There was quite a bit of swell (4-6 feet/1.6 meters) but the periods were long and slow making for a fairly gentle ride of gliding up and down each one.  We threw out a couple of lines to troll for fish since it was a long passage, and hey, why not?  As I sat at the helm in the blazing sun, I found myself lamenting the fact that we were having no luck this season catching anything.  When we were about 12 nm out from the anchorage, I started thinking maybe I should just pull up the lines and call it a day.  As I looked back, I was shocked to see the elastic band on our hand line pulled tight!  I quickly woke Dan up from his very deep sleep, and the commotion ensued.  Engines in neutral, Dan pulling the line up, me running below deck to grab the hammer, running to grab the net (yes, I do a lot of running around on this boat).  As he got the tuna closer, there were two more in the fray.  I’m not sure if they were trying to rescue their buddy or cannibalize our catch.  Too bad we had a crappy, useless net (came with the boat), or we might have had 3 nice sized tuna!  Dan got him up on deck, and the murderous scene commenced.  I took the wheel and got us underway once again (I prefer to not watch the death scene).  Dan made quick work of dispatching him, bleeding him out, and then filleting him.  After that came the fun of cleaning all the blood off the deck, swim steps and cockpit table.  Woo hoo….sashimi and poke bowls finally on the menu!

Fish on!! It’s always the cheap handling and not the expensive trolling rig!
Poke bowls and sushi on the menu!

As we pulled into the anchorage, there were only two other boats already anchored.  We carefully chose our spot, leaving a respectable amount of distance between us and our neighbors.  Anchor dug right in, and we enjoyed our new scenery.  Cefalu is yet another beautiful, ancient city on the island of Sicily.  This also meant it was an extremely busy tourist destination.  Our anchorage was on the outskirts of town which provided us with some peace and solitude, along with some very picturesque views of the rocky promontory.  After a 20 minute uphill walk, we were immediately thrust into the bustling tourist scene.  It is considered one of the major tourist attractions in the region (and we had never heard of it)!  Cefalu is a member of “The most beautiful villages of Italy” association (did not know that either), and it certainly lived up to it’s title.  Our first stop on our exploration was to the summit of the promontory.  We were still under an intense heat wave, and the climb was quite high so our goal was to get it done fairly early (something we regularly fail at and just about kill ourselves in the heat).  At the top are the extensive remains of a Norman castle.  It was a long trek up, but the views were spectacular and the remains of the castle a treasure to explore.  By early afternoon, we were headed back down to the bustle of town.  In the heart of the town is the cathedral which was built in 1131 in a style of Norman architecture (also known as Sicilian Romanesque).  As are most cathedrals and churches in this part of the world, it was stunning.  Throughout the town are cobblestones roads, tiny alleyways lined with plants and flowers, and many shops and restaurants.  I can honestly say that this was one of my favorite stops this year (except for the crowds, of course).  I’d really like to revisit here in the shoulder season when it is far less crowded and hard to move around and see things.  On a side note, if your are into the HBO show The White Lotus, some scenes from the second season were filmed here in Cefalu.

Pulling a 150 lb dinghy onto the beach for a day of exploration…already tired!
August has been a time for Italian vacations since Roman times. And they do take it seriously!
Atmospheric Cefalu old town streets
UNESCO listed Cathedral from 1131. Erected at the site King Roger II was saved from a shipwreck
Summertime hustle and bustle in Cefalu
Exploring the Temple of Diana high on the hilltop
Long and steep hike to the hilltop fortress but views were worth it
View of Cefalu as we depart for Palermo

After a long, intensive heat wave, comes the typical fun of strong winds and thunderstorms before ushering in much nicer temperatures.  We had been watching a weather system for a week in the hopes it would moderate.  We prefer to be in a marina when bad weather hits, and unfortunately the storms always seem to come at the worst possible time.  In this case, it was arriving for the weekend.  The problem with weekends is that this is when charter boats get turned over (returned on Friday and new charterers pick up late Saturday for a Sunday departure).  This meant that almost all of the marinas Dan called on said they had no room for us.  The other problem is they are at peak summer rates which means rates ran anywhere from $150-$300 per night!  Yikes!  As we continued to watch the forecast, the predicted forecast only got worse.  Luckily, Dan finally found a marina in Palermo that said they could squeeze us in.  We quickly booked 2 days and continued to anxiously watch the forecast (really hoping it would tamp down to a minimal disruption).  We decided to get some miles on so that we would be staged near Palermo in order to arrive before the afternoon winds kicked up making docking extra “fun.”  Our first potential anchorage was still about 2 1/2 hours out of Palermo, so we nixed that one and pressed on to our next choice.  Arenella was only about 20-30 minutes outside of Palermo harbor and known for good holding.  It’s not a very big anchorage (by my standards) so finding a spot amongst those already anchored and the small rental boats out for the day was a bit of a challenge.  This is pretty much the only time that Dan and I get into it….he feels a lot more comfortable being closer to other boats than I do.  We finally settled into our spot which unfortunately still wasn’t great.  Because of the depths of where we needed to anchor and the amount of chain we needed to put out, we were now only 35 meters from a beautiful rock cliff.  Sounds lovely….it was lovely….but by evening, we were on a lee shore (stern to the rocks so if the anchor let go, Zoe would be rammed into the cliffs).  Unfortunately, we did not plan for the fact that the wind had been blowing hard from an unusual direction (East), and while we did not have strong winds, the swell in the small bay was insane!  As the 2-3 foot rollers smashed into the cliff wall and caves behind us, they projected back out causing a washing machine effect.  We all pitched around in the anchorage quite violently.  Dan and I decided that we needed to do an anchor watch through the night due to our proximity to the rock and limited amount of reaction time if something went wrong.  We each took several hour shifts throughout the night.  I spent most of my time running to the back of the boat to try and see if we were closer to the rocks.  It’s amazing how much closer things look in the dark of night!  Eesh!  By 4:30 a.m., Dan came to bed and said the worst of it was over (oh sure, short watch for Dan again).

Our view of the cliffs 35 meters (about 100 feet) off our stern. Too close for a comfortable sleep!

The next morning all was calm, and we made our way into the harbor of Palermo.  This is an incredibly busy harbor with huge ferries and even bigger cruise ships coming and going all day and night.  We quickly skirted our way in, and headed to our designated spot.  Before long, we had two marineros on board scampering around adding to our lines and tying us off to our neighbor’s boat.  With the upcoming wind, they made sure we were quite snug in our spot.  That evening, we headed into the heart of the old city for dinner at a highly rated pizza place with craft beers.  The place was packed, but we managed to snag a small table for two between 2 umbrellas.  That may seem like an odd detail to include, but as I mentioned earlier, thunderstorms were expected.  Yep, they arrived about half way through our dinner.  We were the only table in the gap of the two umbrellas, so of course we got rained on.  We quickly finished our dinner and made our way back to the boat.  We were soaked by the time we got back on board.  The winds had kicked up too which made walking the floating docks to the boat quite a bit of fun as well!

Fifteen minutes before the rain!
Exploring beautiful Palermo

The following day, we decided to explore some of the sights of Palermo (the city is over 2700 years old).  We wandered through the crowded and quaint little streets before spilling out at the Palermo Cathedral.  The long history of this cathedral has led to an accumulation of different architectural styles.  From there, we headed to the Catacombe Frati Cappuccini Di Palermo (the catacombs).  Here come the dead bodies I promised you!  We’ve been to the catacombs in Paris which were pretty cool in their own right, but nothing prepared us for what we were about to see here in Palermo. To say it was a bit of a horror show would be an understatement.  As you walked down the tunnels, you were soon greeted by walls of bodies, each hung neatly into carved archways.  Each mummified body was fully dressed in the clothing of their period and varied in their degree of preservation.  Some hung on the walls as entire families.  There were sections for men, women, children, and professionals.  Further in, many bodies were just laid on shelves.  These were the bodies whose families no longer paid for their upkeep and the prestigious location on the wall (they got a downgrade).  I found it all fascinating (Dan got the heebie-jeebies….creeps).  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), we were not allowed to take pictures inside the catacombs.  We have however included some from the website along with it’s link for those of you with a morbid curiousity, like me!

Photo from Atlas Obscura (link above)
Photo from Atlas Obscura (link above)
We saw this first hand and can attest to the remarkable preservation of “Sleeping Beauty”
Nightmare material

From the catacombs, we walked through the Palace grounds (the palace itself was closed) and then over to the Teatro Massimo (“Greatest Theater”).  Palermo was very rich in beautiful architectural buildings around every corner.  We also visited an amazing fresh fruit and vegetable market that was host to all kinds of local products and “street food.”  It was also teeming with people and hard to get around but fascinating to see none the less.

Porta Nuova Gate with it’s Arab influence from when Saracens occupied Sicily
Wandering the Palermo street markets
Palermo Cathedral and a colorful tuk tuk
Teatro Massimo and steps from a scene in the Godfather Part III
Hand written menu – in English- this place was a gem!
The street food scene in Palermo is justifiably famous

In the end, we spent 4 nights in Palermo waiting the for the wind and seas to die down.  The seas were more of the problem, since they would be on our nose to our next destination and were running 3-4 meters high (10-13 feet).  NO THANK YOU!  We still ended up with 5-7 foot seas somewhat on our nose which was not much fun.  Eventually as we rounded the island, they began to come more from behind which gave us a nice burst of speed for the 9 hour journey to Trapani (our last city on Sicily).  We called on the radio for permission to enter the harbor (apparently they fine you if you don’t) and were told we had 24 hours to stay.  Seriously?  What the hell?  We also had a visit from the Guardia di Finanza (our first ever).  These guys thoroughly check all your paperwork for you and your boat and are known to strike terror in the hearts of boaters.  Lucky for us, Dan is very meticulous and organized with our paperwork, the guys were very kind and friendly, and actually thanked him for being so well prepared.  At this point, we really didn’t feel like spending any time here, so we got up early the next morning for the short hop to the island of Favignana.  We will be here for a couple of days as we await our weather window to make the 33 hour crossing to the island of Sardinia. Stay tuned for adventures in Sardinia!

Mooring Ball Chaos, Boulder Spewing Volcanoes – Welcome to the Aeolian Islands!

It is said that the Aeolian are a living myth where fire, water and wind along with the mix of cultures from the numerous civilizations have made these islands a true inspiration.  In 2000, they were named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our first stop in this archipelago, was the island of Vulcano.  We had arranged for a mooring buoy for the next 3 days after seeing some strong winds headed our way over a two day period.  Not only was it a good thing we came in early, it was also good that we reserved a buoy ahead of time.  When we first pulled in and told the marinero we would be staying 3 days, he informed us we could not because they were booked full.  We told him that we had made a reservation and were told 3 days would be okay.  He said we were good and all was well.  Whew!  From our mooring, we had a spectacular view of the volcano.  The island has black sand beaches, mud baths and thermal springs.  Some of the beaches have underwater fumeroles that bubble up to the surface.  If you are not careful, it is very easy to burn yourself.  One in particular was extremely bubbly and had been buoyed off to keep swimmers out.  Dan got as close as he dared and shot some video.  The mud baths were also shut down, and it was very evident as to why (the mud was a bubbly cauldron that looked ready to boil you alive).  Unfortunately, all this geothermal activity makes the island smell horrid.  You cannot escape the overpowering sulfur smell that burrows so deep into your nostrils you can actually taste it!  Gag!

Zoe in the mooring ball field – secure – or so we thought

The next day, we headed through town to the volcano in order to hike to the top. We arrived at the entrance at 11:00 and were greeted by a big red light.  The sign very clearly stated that hiking was prohibited after 10:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  Dan was not happy, and stated that we were going anyway.  Now I was not happy.  It’s pretty clear who is the rebel, and who is the religious rule follower.  He stated he was going anyway and would meet up with me later.  Fine by me.  Did I mention that it was already really hot?  He ended up changing his mind while bemoaning the stupidity of arbitrary times the whole way back to town.  We decided that we would try again at 4:00 p.m.  Instead, we opted to rent a scooter and explore the island.  We spent a few hours driving the island, doing some hiking, and taking in all the beautiful sights.  We returned the scooter and started back up toward the volcano.  I know this is going to come as a great shock… was even hotter than it had been at 11:00!  We decided it was just too hot, and thought we would try one more time early in the morning.  We headed back to Zoe to relax before dinner.

That red light over Robyn’s left shoulder? Meant no hiking the volcano for us!
We hiked to the top of another mountain instead to get our volcano view…
Scooter rental on a sketchy road on a volcano
Dan enjoying the view on a scooter stop
“If you see dead animals or withering of trees…..RUN!”
The mud baths – which were closed during our visit – with supposedly curative properties
Video of carbon dioxide spewing from the sea bed near Zoe

At this point, we have spent the last few days pitching around in 2 foot rollers that come into the anchorage from the non-stop flow of huge, high speed ferries.  It has also been very windy, and Zoe has been bouncing around on her mooring ball.  As I began to prepare dinner, Dan kept hearing some odd banging noises.  We checked, nothing looked amiss. He decided to go below deck to get cleaned up since he had a 7:00 p.m. business call.  All of a sudden, I noticed we had made a very odd pivot.  We were now 90 degrees different than everyone else on mooring balls or anchored… weird.  I still hadn’t wrapped my head around the fact that something odd was happening.  By this point, Dan is below and completely naked (of course, or the story wouldn’t be near as entertaining)!  All of a sudden, Dan’s anchor alarm starts blaring.  We don’t usually set an anchor alarm on a mooring ball, but with the earlier high winds Dan thought it would be a good idea.  He’s yelling up to me to turn it off, but I can’t get into his iPad.  I run down below and he gives me the code to open it and turn it off.  Hmmmm, why do we look so far away from our original position?  The winds had calmed down by this point. Sometimes we get a GPS error, so maybe that’s it.  I head back up and notice we are oddly close to a pocket cruiser that was off to our side.  Uh oh.  I assume we have broken free from our mooring and run to the bow.  Everything looks normal!  The floats are below the water line at the center of the boat, our lines are still tied to them and creaking against the hulls (under strain).  Next thing I know, the marinero is racing out to us on his dinghy telling me to start the motors.  I run back and fire up the engines.  No time to call for Dan, but I know the engines firing up is going to signal to him that something is very wrong!  The marinero has me throttle forward, but Zoe barely moves.  I give her a lot more gas, and we slowly lumber forward.  Dan has hastily dressed and is back on deck and I tell him what little I know.  Now, we have 2 high powered tenders helping to push us all over the mooring field.  Of course, everyone is out on their decks watching the spectacle that we are (my favorite thing).  Between our engines and their powerful tenders we are moving forward and backward.  When we finally stop, they explained to us that the entire concrete block moved with us and when it hit deeper water, it was no longer holding us in place.  Seriously?!  The wind and our weight moved the entire mooring block?  We sat for a bit feeling very uneasy.  Before long, the marineros were back.  They told us they were moving us to a different buoy.  Of course, the winds were up, and we were being moved into a very tight spot surrounded by other boats that required us to be bow and stern tied.  We were finally settled in for the night, Dan took his call late, and dinner was horribly overcooked.  Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.

The next morning, we headed for the island of Lipari.  We grabbed a mooring buoy here as well (hoping the last incident was a “one and done”), since the anchorages are quite deep and very busy.  3 marineros met us on their tender, one boarded us, and they proceeded to bow and stern tie us.  We had two lines to our bow and two to our stern, tightly locking us in place.  They handled everything!  Boy, I could get use to being spoiled like this.  We were tucked into this little cove surrounded by stunning rock cliffs.  Off in the distance, we had a great view of the castle.  We had planned to only spend 1 night here, but I talked Dan in to staying two.  Once we were settled in, Dan and I headed into the main part of town and wandered the quaint little streets lined with restaurants, shops, and boutiques.  The main street is lined with a variety of tiny, cobblestoned alleys where the locals live.  From there, we headed down to the waterfront to rent a scooter.  We spent 3 hours exploring mountain top views, cute little villages, rugged cliff top trails through interesting rock formations, and beautiful churches perched high on the hills.  We returned to Zoe in the heat of the day and relaxed until we headed back into town for an amazing seafood dinner.  I have never had any interest in sardines and anchovies at home, but in this part of the world, they are quite yummy and becoming a frequent part of our diet.  Lipari is the largest island in the archipelago and the most populated.  In the town and close by there are numerous excavations uncovering a multitude of human civilizations.  There are ruins and remains spanning dozens of ages of man from prehistoric through Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, and the Spanish.  Within the grounds of the castle walls are numerous museums housing these incredible archeological finds.  Our second day here, we spent several hours exploring the castle walls, numerous churches, archeological sites, and several of the museums housing incredible artifacts from many civilizations and time periods.  Unfortunately, as beautiful as our little mooring field was, it was also inside the main “highway” of large ferries and tour boats which means we spent 24 hours a day bouncing around in 2 foot swells.  It’s probably a good thing we don’t have guests yet since this would likely make someone seasick.

Full service mooring ball field!
With a high crosswind, a marinero used his tender to keep us in position
All tied up and enjoying the picturesque surroundings
Lipari’s castle
Exploring the castle grounds
Lipari and it’s picturesque alleyways
Ornate church in the Castle
Roman Amphorae on display in the museum
Guard house high on the castle walls
View of the neighboring island of Salina
Boarding the tender for our ride back to Zoe

From Lipari, we headed to the island of Stromboli, but first we made a short stop at the small island of Bottaro.  The sole purpose of this stop was to swim the many bubbling fumeroles coming up from the sea floor.  Needless to say, it was very crowded.  We finally found a small patch of sand amongst the many boats and anchored Zoe.  We jumped in the water and swam over to the area of the most active bubbling springs.  They were definitely quite impressive to see.  Once we had our fill, we picked up anchor and continued on our way to Stromboli.  This island is known as the world’s oldest lighthouse as it has a continuous eruptions every 15-20 minutes.  Stromboli is the furthest most island in the archipelago and only inhabited by about 500 people in the summer.  Many do not stay in the winter due to the isolation.  Between sunset at 2:00 p.m., nasty winds and high seas, they become somewhat trapped here with the inability to safely get boats in and out.  There is no water here on the island, so it is brought in by a huge tanker.  Talk about your island fever!  

Approaching the island of Bottaro with a view of Stromboli in the distance
The open water carbon dioxide fumaroles of Bottaro
Front row seats to volcanic activity

We had made arrangements to hike up the volcano to a viewing spot with a guided tour group a few hours after we arrived.  Needless to say, I was very apprehensive about this endeavor.  Not for fear of the volcano but for the 400 m (1300+ ft) ascent in 2.1 miles.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been hiking and even longer since we’ve done that kind of elevation.  We met at the top of the hill in front of a beautiful church.  Coming from Zoe, it was a 150 m (almost 500 ft) to the meeting point.  Hmmmm…..was that included in the 400 m climb?  I might be okay (although I was already hot and tired).  Of course it didn’t!  Up, up, up we went. Our first water break was in a very old cemetery high on the cliffs.  Apparently there had been a cholera outbreak in 1884, and this was where many of the bodies were buried….far from town.  As we continued on, there were steep climbs in slippery volcanic ash and winding switchbacks through dense forests of sugar cane and caper bushes.  It was still quite hot despite a 5:30 p.m. departure and by the time we arrived at the viewing area, we were drenched in sweat.  The hike was timed to arrive just before sunset in order to get the best viewing once the sun went down.  Not long before we reached our final destination, you could hear the rumbling of the volcano.  Once we reached the viewing area, we settled in to watch the show.  We were treated to an amazing view of the sunset over the islands, and then the mighty power of this active volcano.  Every 15-20 minutes fire and spark spewed into the air with flying boulders of fire and a rumbling that shook you to  your core.  Wow!  It was amazing!  We spent several hours making our way back down in the dark, arriving back in town at 11:00 p.m.  We were both sore and exhausted, but it was so worth the experience.  We dragged the dinghy off the beach and into the water to make our way back to Zoe.  I was quite shocked when I opened up the boat.  Platters were strewn about the floor, a bottle of wine was toppled over, my spice rounder was toppled with jars of spices scattered all over the counter top.  What the hell had happened while we were gone?!?  Had we been broken into?  Nothing appeared to be missing.  So the next question was…..what the hell had come through to make a wake big enough to trash our galley area?  We’ve been in plenty of rough seas and nothing had ever caused that much chaos inside the boat.  Despite the late hour of the night, we cracked open an ice cold beer to enjoy before heading to bed.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a whole lot of sleep since the mooring field had us rocking pretty violently through the night.  There really wasn’t any wind, so we are still not sure what caused all these rollers.  Unfortunately, Dan’s anchor alarm went off several times, and after our incident in Vulcano, we did not ignore it which meant we were up repeatedly making sure everything was normal.  It was.

Zoe in the Stromboli mooring ball field
Dinghy stowed on shore and hiking gear being prepped
Our hiking target for today -the active caldera of Stromboli!
Many others had the same idea!
We hiked to the top of another mountain instead to get our volcano view…
Quite the fireworks show…fire and massive boulders hurled into the air!

We had mixed emotions about leaving Stromboli after only one day but decided that another night of violent pitching around did not sound like much fun.  We left fairly early the next morning and cruised the west side of Stromboli where the activity is most visible.  Although we could not see the fire and sparks in the brightness of day, we were treated to the rumbling and spewing smoke (and an occasional boulder plummeting to the sea).  Still, quite an impressive sight.  Our next destination was the island of Salina.  This was another quaint little seaside village.  In the evening, we headed in to explore the village.  We tied our dinghy in the marina and threw out a stern anchor which we had just replaced in Lipari.

Leaving Stromboli and heading to Salina
A daytime view of the active part of the volcano we had hiked the night before
Stromboli in our wake…

  You put a stern anchor out to help keep the boat from surging into the dock or rock wall that you are tied to.  After wandering the very expensive little town, we headed back to our dinghy.  Dan pulled up the line to the stern anchor, and the anchor was missing.  Are you kidding me?  The bowline he had secured it with was still in tact. That doesn’t make any sense.  The only thing we can figure is that the shackle came loose freeing the line.  Sure enough, below our dinghy in about 2 meters of water lay our anchor.  The sun was already down, so it was getting harder to see.  Dan decided we’d go back to the boat so he could get his swimsuit on and then come back.  Ummmm, why?  By the time we get back, it will be dark and impossible to see.  Plus, someone else might spot the anchor and take it themselves.  My suggestion…..strip to your skivvies.  They are black and look like a swimsuit from a distance.  So, off came the clothes, over the side he went, and anchor retrieved.  Yes, we had a good laugh about that one.

Charming town on the island of Salina
Dinghy check… dinghy anchor- gone!

We decided to make one final stop in the Aeolian islands before heading to the northern side of Sicily.  We headed out to the island furthest west in the archipelago, Alicudi.  This island is the least developed for tourism (definitely my kind of place).  Since Alicudi is so exposed to wind and swell from all directions, and lacks any safe shelter, you should only go there in very calm conditions.  Since it is the top of a volcano, the depths drop extremely fast, and there are not a lot of secure anchorages.  Because of this, we decided to take a mooring ball once again.  This island is a very picturesque mountain soaring steeply into the sky.  The island only has about 150 inhabitants living on the terraced slopes of the mountain.  There is only one road that is 200 meters long running from the small pier to the helicopter pad.  Everything up the hill is transported along cobblestoned paths by donkeys.  It is quite a sight to see.  Dan and I hoofed it up some of the hill to explore an old church and were exhausted.  I can’t imagine having to hoof it up to some of the beautiful houses that were perched much, much higher than where we were standing.  There really was nothing much to this island other than it’s natural beauty.  By the end of the evening, we were joined by many boats.  It was another unrestful night.  For some reason, the mooring lines had been made extremely long which allowed all of us to stretch way further than necessary.  By morning, our neighbor’s dinghy was banging on our hull as I watched the stern of his boat pass within a couple feet of the side of our boat.  Time to go!  Dan and I dropped lines and headed out.

Approaching the island of Alicudi
Almost a perfect volcanic cone – the depths around the island drop quick!
With only one road, donkeys were the only way to move goods around the island.
Definitely putting the burden in “Beast of Burden”!
Drone shot of the really steep island of Alicudi with Zoe in the foreground

In 8 days, we had explored 5 of the 7 Aeolian islands.  The next time we see you, we will be on the north coast of Sicily.  Stay tuned for some exciting new sights and adventures!

Leaving Alicudi with a fishing line out – fingers crossed!