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!

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Vicki Hargis
Vicki Hargis
9 months ago

Your adventures are so wonderful and very well documented. I had to laugh at your comments about the crowds. I too dislike being in crowds and I try to avoid them for the most part.

Melissa Larson
Melissa Larson
9 months ago

Amazing adventures!

Tom Strebel
Tom Strebel
9 months ago

THE FOOD! Amazing. Have a great time in Sardinia!

Jim Krueger
Jim Krueger
9 months ago

Another great blog! We have been to Palermo – Messina – Catania-Taormina, really love Sicily! I remember that it was very hot, but, super fun! I loved the pizza you were eating and the street food looked great! I’m with Dan, the dead people were very creepy! Be safe, can’t wait for Sardinia!

Nora Espenshade
Nora Espenshade
9 months ago

I so look forward to your blogs! I love to travel and feel I do so through your eyes. Thanks again!

Mark Garcia
Mark Garcia
8 months ago

Another great read….thanks Robyn. I’m trying to catch up on your adventures which are again bring a yearning to be there and taking it all in. I hope you had plenty of sushi and poke bowls!

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