Benvenuto in Italia (Welcome to Italy)!

After picking up our documents to officially check out of Albania, we were underway for Italy at 5:00 p.m.  Since we had never been to Otranto and were unsure of where to handle all the formalities of checking in, Dan decided to hire an agent to assist us with the paperwork. When we were last in Italy in 2018 (our first year onboard) we did it incorrectly and narrowly avoided a problem.  This time we wanted to do it right. Since Otranto is not a major port of entry, we were told we need to arrive very early because the officials were only there for a few hours in the morning (hence the 5:00 p.m departure the day before).  This was slated to be a 13 hour passage with no real wind to sail with.  As we got outside the bay, the seas were a bit bigger than forecasted (shocking, I know) and the winds were up, but straight on our nose.  This still meant no sailing, but it also meant slowing us down quite a bit.  I opted to take first shift since I prefer to ease myself into driving in the dark.  Unfortunately, by doing this, I inevitably end up doing double nighttime shifts and Dan only gets the middle (I think I may need to rethink my strategy).

Sunset on our passage across the Adriatic
Land ho!

Our passage across the Adriatic was pretty uneventful, and we arrived bright and early at 5:00 a.m. (managed to shave an hour off despite the slow start).  We dropped anchor in a beautiful, sandy bay and headed down for a nap.  Not long after falling into a deep sleep, the agent called to tell us he arranged a spot on the wall for us, and we needed to come right now.  So, up we popped to pull up the anchor and head into the quay.  We quickly tied up and Dan bugged out with the agent to get us formally checked in to Italy.  Ironically, all the officials were housed right behind us (probably could’ve saved some agent money there, but who knew?).  We were a short walk to the castle walls and cobblestoned streets.  Inside the walls were lots of lovely little shops and restaurants.  The next day, we rented a car and headed inland to the town of Lecce, known as a “foodie” city.  We entered one of the gates to this ancient walled city and set off to explore.  Lecce is known for it’s Baroque buildings and is over 2000 years old.  It is nicknamed the Florence of the South.

The charming medieval town of Otranto
Zoe tied up to the transit dock. Coast Guard, immigration and customs were right behind us
Aragonese castle. Famous as a staging ground for numerous crusades
We love strolling Italy! So picturesque.

Our first stop was Museo Faggiano.  This was a private house up until 2001 when during renovations, the owner discovered archaeological  remains dating back 2500 years ago.  He discovered cisterns, secret passageways, tombs, skeletal remains, a Knights Templar fresco, and many other treasures.  It took them 7 years to fully excavate the site which they turned into a museum open to the public in 2008.  The building dates back to pre-Roman times.  It is said to have been a Knights Templar house between 1000-1200, and then a Franciscan convent until 1600.  We spent a great deal of time exploring every nook and cranny of this fascinating piece of history.

Down into the secret tunnel of Knights Templar
“If God is with us who can be against us?” Inscription on found wall
Very narrow stairs into very small tunnels!
Secret room beneath the main house
Pottery shards and remnants from a time long past
We really enjoyed this unique museum.

From there, we headed to the ancient Roman Theater from the 2nd century(not discovered until 1929).  Although we were not able to explore the interior, we did get some great views from above.  After that, we were off to explore a number of spectacular churches.  Each one we walked into was more incredible than the previous one.  Here again, I will let the pictures tell the story.

Ancient Roman theatre
Robyn getting a custom apron. It says “Robyn cooks from the heart” in Italian
Strolling the streets of Lecce
One of Lecce’s fabulous churches
Architecture is amazing
Nice large glass of Moretti beer to cool off with!

After a couple of days, we were on our way once again.  Our next stop was Santa Maria di Leuca in order to position ourselves for our next big passage.  Here, we were at the very tip of the heel of Italy preparing to cross the Gulf of Taranto on a 13 hour passage to Crotone (located on the “ball” of the foot/boot).  The gulf can blow some pretty big winds with choppy seas, so once again, timing was very important.  We decided to make this passage during the day with a 5:00 a.m. departure.  This would get us into Crotone while the sun was still up (important to us when anchoring in a place we have never been).  As continues to be our misfortune, what little wind we had was square on the nose…..more motoring!  We also learned that this part of the world is quite warm right now, so making this passage during the day was a dumb idea.  We were sweltering!

Lighthouse at the tip of the “heel” in Santa Maria De Leuca
Our passage across the Gulf of Taranto to Crotone

We arrived in the town of Crotone and dropped anchor in a big, beautiful bay surrounded by beach clubs, restaurants and a lungomare (seaside boardwalk) that went on for miles.  Luckily the depths were shallow enough that we were anchored pretty far out from the chaos.  The next morning we motored 2 hours north (yep, still not sailing) to a bay in Strongoli.  Our mission here was to search for the Italian ship (the Nave Petrarca) that Dan’s grandfather had died on when it was torpedoed by the British during WWII.  We had an approximate location, so this was going to be an interesting endeavor.  We stopped and asked 3 men fishing off their boat if they knew where the wreck was, and they pointed us in a general direction.  After searching for over a 1/2 hour on Zoe, and Dan searching by swimming while I used Zoe to try and hover near the supposed spot, we had no luck.  Dan then jumped in the dinghy to search further from Zoe while I remained on board watching him.  Eventually, frustration took over, and he decided to zoom over to another boat where a man was fishing.  Before long, they both came over to the boat where I used Google translate to explain what we were looking for a why (I then proceeded to butcher the language trying to read it to him).  He understood and knew exactly where to take Dan.  Dan followed him in the dinghy while I made notes of the land features of where they were.

Vincenzo leading the way to the wreck of the Nave Petrarca

Dan came back to the boat so that we could move Zoe closer to area (we had been nowhere near the pieces of the wreck).  As we motored over there, he told me that the man had invited us to have lunch with him (the first boat of fisherman had returned and one of them translated the lunch invitation).  We dropped anchor in very shallow water and Dan swam the pieces of the wreck.  This was a very special moment for Dan as he had never met his grandfather and had only heard the story from his dad growing up.  It took a fair amount of research (all in Italian) and it was gratifying to actually find it.  Article on the Petrarca and it’s demise is here:  

A piece of the wreckage

After spending time with what was left of the wreck (the torpedo had blown the ammunition ship sky high leaving only small pieces of debris behind).  We hopped in the dinghy and headed to shore to meet our new friend.  He did not speak English, and we do not speak Italian so this was truly an adventure.  We got in his car and he brought us to his home where he and his wife made us an amazing home cooked multi-course lunch with local wine.  After a couple of hours, we told them we had to leave because the winds were coming up and we had a marina awaiting our arrival.  Back on board, we spent two hours bashing back to Crotone (imagine that….going in the opposite direction and the damn wind was on our nose yet again!).  We came into the marina and tied to the quay.  After welcoming us, the marinero handed us a bottle of local wine to enjoy.  Wow!  On top of that, each morning we were brought freshly made croissants from a local bakery.  Holy cow, I love this place (my waistline, not so much).

New friends in crotone – Vincenzo and Chiara!
A Calabrian speciality called sardella. This yumminess is spread on bread with olive oil,
Homemade pasta with local red wine. Perfectly al dente and Tutti Bene!
Robyn trying local snails made in the Calabrese style

The next day, our new friends from Strongoli drove down to the marina and picked us up.  They drove us back to their town and up to the old city of Strongoli high in the hills to the cemetery where a memorial had been constructed to honor the lives lost on the Petrarca.  Once again, we would have never been able to find this treasure on our own as it was hidden in a lower courtyard of the main area of the cemetery.  His grandfather’s name was not on the memorial, and we learned that the names were for the bodies that were found (18 out of 82 lives lost….very sad).  We were then taken to see the castle and panoramic views of the old town where our new friends once lived.  From there, we headed back down to Crotone for some lunch.  They took us to this little local gem where you had to ring a doorbell for admittance to this beautiful little fish restaurant.  There was no menu (or English) so our hosts expertly ordered a fancy fish feast for us with very tasty local wine.  Numerous small plates of different fish came out for us to try.  It was an absolutely amazing lunch.  We returned to the boat and made plans to meet for a pizza dinner the next night.  We were told that Crotone has the best pizza outside of Napoli, and our friends have a Sunday night pizza tradition.  Mind you, neither of us still speak the others language, so watching our interactions was I’m sure quite amusing to those around us.  Google translate became our best friend on both sides!

Memorial to the lives lost in WWII on the Petrarca in Strongoli
15 February 1943 tragedy struck the Muzich family. Lost my grandfather nearby.
Strongoli castle
Hilltop views of Storngoli
Views from the town were amazing
Lunch with our new friends at Brizo in Crotone
Prawns made “crudo” style
Sardella (yum!) in the background and sardines with pickled onions
Pasta with sea urchin. First time for everything!

Once again, our friends arrived Sunday night (this time bringing gifts of homemade sardella and a huge can of locally produced olive oil).  They drove us to a beautiful spot on the water and a poolside table.  They ordered a delicious “pizza by the meter” with several different flavor sections.  It was excellent!  After returning to the boat, we enjoyed a quick apperitivo onboard (it was getting close to midnight).  We said a sad farewell to our new friends with a promise to reconnect when we return to Italy in August where they will hopefully join us for some sailing.

Pizza by the meter in Crotone

Our next journey was to Sicily and the town of Taormina.  This would be another 24 hour, round the clock journey.  We headed out of our beloved little marina spot a little after 12 noon.  Care to take bets on whether or not we sailed?  Of course, we did not!  There was either no wind or it was directly on the nose. The wind gods have not been playing nice with us so far this year 🙁

Sunset on our way to Taormina, Sicily

It was a pretty uneventful, overnight passage.  However, about an hour out of our destination, Dan landed a 10 pound (4.5 kg )tuna.  Woo hoo, yummy eats for several days!  So, we have arrived in Sicily and will keep you posted on our next adventures as we make our way around this beautiful island.

Bluefin tuna! Sushi coming up!
Overview of our journey from Albania to Sicily
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1 year ago

Oh my goodness so incredible! The ship remains, the memorial, so emotional. What a beautiful way to see Italy, though! Enjoy all the moments! As always, safe passage! ♥️

Don Morrison
Don Morrison
1 year ago

Amazing adventure especially in and around Croton and the wonderful hospitality shown to you. When we were in Italy we were similarly amazed with the ornate churches in every town. Lots of motoring means lots of petro, are prices there sky high too? Great job storytelling Robyn can’t wait for your future book. Smooth sailing to you and Dan.

Nora Espenshade
Nora Espenshade
1 year ago

Thanks again for bringing excitement into my life. I do love to travel but don’t see much in my near future.

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