Ancient bikinis and flying Swans

Sicily was the place for us to catch up with family this year with Barb joining us at Marina di Ragusa, but before we set off on the high seas we took the opportunity to go inland. Tucked away near the medieval hilltop town of Piazza Armerina is the fabulous Villa Romana del Casale, which houses the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Now you might think it’s hard to get excited about a few small coloured tiles, but these ones have been around since about 300AD. There are more than 3,500 sqm of floor tiles, and they are extraordinarily well preserved having spent the best part of almost 2000 years covered up by several metres of mud after a landslide. The villa is thought to have been part of a huge Roman agricultural estate belonging to a noble family. The mosaics depict incredibly detailed stories including scenes from Homer, great hunts and girls (nicknamed the Bikini Girls) showing off their decathalon skills with discus throwing, hefting dumbells, ball games and running. Even Fitzy thought they were good! (The mosaics, not the girls).

Our next stop along the coast was near Sicily’s biggest tourist drawcard, the Valley of the Temples. This 13 sq km archeological park has an assortment of temples in various states of ruin, but the most intact is the 430BC Greek Temple of Concordia, upon which the UNESCO logo is apparently based. The temple survived when others didn’t, partly because it was reinforced when it was turned into a church in the 6th century, but also because beneath the rock it sits on is a layer of soft clay, which dampens the effects of earth tremors. With any luck it should manage to survive a few more years yet! Heading west we stopped at Sciacca, famous for it’s thermal baths, healing waters and mineral-rich mud. Barb & I were certainly up for a bit of pampering, but alas it was not to be as the complex was closed for renovations/repairs. So we didn’t get to experience the “uplifting breast-toning treatment for 200 euros” (what a bargain!) as mentioned in the Lonely Planet. C’est la vie.

We enjoyed some time at anchor out at the Egadi Islands before heading in to Trapani. The best way to see the old town is by foot, admiring the many Baroque buildings and narrow streets, following in the locals’ footsteps during the evening passeggiata. All too soon it was time to farewell Barb and set off for Sardinia. As we were sailing out of Trapani harbour a large Italian Coast Guard ship was coming in. We couldn’t help but notice the dozens of Africans crammed on the aft deck, presumably plucked from the water somewhere off the coast nearby. I can only imagine that these are people who just want a safe place to live and a secure future for their families. We couldn’t help but reflect upon how incredibly lucky we are, to have the freedom we have to be able to do the things we are doing. How lucky are we to be born in the right country?

An overnight sail took us across to Santa Maria Navaresse, on the east coast of Sardinia. We planned to be in Porto Cervo for the Rolex Swan Cup (hoping to race, although not with Loki), so had some time to hire a car and drive up to the Gorropu Canyon. We enjoyed a very pleasant hike into the gorge with its spectacular limestone cliffs towering up to 400 m above us. Going north along the coast the impressive massif of the Supramonte dominates the landscape. There are various bays strewn with grottoes and crystal clear beaches. Just had to stop for lunch along the way and enjoy the stunning torquoise waters at “the swimming pool”, le piscine di Molara.

As luck would have it we met up with a Norwegian yacht, “Concerto”, whilst we were at anchor in La Maddalena Archipelago National Park and managed to secure crew positions aboard their friend’s 65 ft Swan, “Coeur de Lion”, for the Swan regatta. It was an absolute priviledge to sail with Bjorn, Peder Lunde (4 times Olympian – gold & silver medalist, and Whitbread Round the World skipper!), Einar, Hendrick, Daniel & Jorgen. Those Vikings sure know how to have a good time! Thanks guys for a great regatta, it was terrific fun. Local photographer Gianluca Muscas captured some nice images of us from the water too.

With 112 entrants, the regatta included races for the maxis (90 – 115ft), mini maxis (60-80ft), Grand Prix racers, S & S’s, Swan 42 One Design and the World Championships for the Swan 45s. What a fabulous sight! Seeing all those beautiful yachts roaring about the picturesque coastal courses. Most of the time I was simply too busy enjoying the racing, so not many images from me I’m afraid. But I’ve included here a few images from one of the world’s best renowned yachting photograhers, Carlo Borlenhgi, who was there shooting the action each day. I particularly like the shot showing the maxi, Highland Fling (115ft) having a bit of an oopsie with her spinnaker! Being at the regatta also gave us the opportunity to catch up with our friends Oguz & Nihal who flew in from Turkey to enjoy the festivities. A great time was had by all.

Now Loki is all packed up and ready for another winter, this time at Gaeta, about two hours drive south of Rome. We are about to head homewards and are very, very much looking forward to catching up with dear friends and family upon our return. Thinking of you all. Keep well & stay safe.





Bunkers, Bombs & Baroque Towns

So, what have YOU been up to over the last four weeks or so, and what have we been doing since leaving Venice? We cleared into Croatia at Rovinj, then hot-footed it down the coast to make some miles south, doing 50-60 mile days until we were at the bottom of the Kornatis. We then stopped at Vis, Lastovo and Korcula. We really enjoyed our second visit to the island of Vis. Not only did we manage to catch up with the McGeoghs again this year, but also went on a “military tour” of the island. It’s easy to forget that not so long ago this area was part of a Communist country, caught in the grip of the cold war. Before that Vis had been controlled at various times by the Greeks, the Romans, the English, the French, the Italians and the Austrians! Because of it’s strategic location it was said that “whoever controlled Vis controlled the Adriatic Sea”. These days you can take a tour around the old tunnels where soldiers lived underground on 2 week rotations, or bunkers where submarines were hidden from view. Our guide, Marco, was very knowlegable about the area and passionate about the history which made our excursion all the more enjoyable.

We then continued south, stopping briefly at Montenegro to clear out of the EU, before covering the 300nm down to Sicily where we welcomed the London contingent of Peter, Martine & Robert on board at Riposto. Here we took the opportunity to visit the simmering volcano that is Mt Etna, with its moonscape-like slopes and billowing gases belching forth. We also drove up to the trendy hill-top town of Taormina before continuing on down the east coast of Sicily. The famous fish market in Catania was a scene of lively activity with a good variety of seafood on display including the local swordfish in abundance, but it was just as interesting to watch how the locals interacted, including the gallery of men surveying the scene. The nearby meat stall had “castrato” on offer, but I wasn’t tempted to buy any. Needless to say, with Peter & Martine on board we enjoyed some delicious food, fine wine and great company!

We loved visiting the honey-coloured baroque towns of SE Sicily. Syracuse has the fabulous old town of Ortygia, which is a tangle of narrow streets that draw you into the impressive main piazza. Noto, Modica and Ragusa are also worth a look. Whilst this region is steeped in history and has fabulously grand, Baroque buildings with wonderfully novel balconies I couldn’t help but notice that they have to make do with very average beaches! It was lovely to spend some time with family, but once we’d reached the SE corner of Sicily it was time to farewell P, M, & R and continue on our way south. Arrivederci!

We sailed into Malta to the sound of cannon fire, but of course it wasn’t marking our arrival, just celebrating yet another saints day. In this staunchly Catholic nation there’s apparently a village festa every week somewhere on the island with street processions, fireworks and even air-raid sirens going off. A midday cannon is also still fired daily at the Saluting Battery with due pomp and ceremony. Malta has a rich history which is an interesting blend of Maltese, English, Italian, French, Arab and north African influences. The language sounds a bit like Italian crossed with Arabic, but English is spoken everywhere, and the food is a fusion of Sicilian and Middle Eastern with various assorted influences thrown in. The enclosed wooden balconies that adorn the local limestone buildings are very similar to the ones we saw in Turkey, attesting to an earlier Ottoman influence.

Malta is a great place to visit by boat. There are good marinas and a great public transport system makes it easy to get around. Although Valletta itself is on a peninsula that is only 1km by 600m, it punches above it’s weight in terms of things to see and do. The awesome fortifications of the Grand Harbour of Valetta stem back to when the Knights of St John made Malta their home in 1530 after they were booted out of Rhodes. Even though there are 359 churches in Malta, St John’s Cathedral, built by the Knights, is definitely its most stunning. The wonderfully ornate Baroque style takes your breath away when you first step inside. There are eight chapels dedicated to each of the Knights’ divisions, all richly decorated and many with religious paintings by Mattia Preti, and of course there’s the national treasure, Caravaggio’s “John The Baptist” (no photos allowed).

Next stop, the Grand Masters’ Palace, once the residence of the Grand Masters of the Knights of St John and today the official residence of the Maltese President. Five state rooms are open the the public, as well as the Palace Armoury which displays various weapons and suits of armour from the 16-18th centuries. Geez they did a lot of fighting in those days! You can find out all about Malta’s wartime history at the fascinating National War Museum, located in Fort St Elmo, which guards the entrance to both the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett. It tells of the Great Siege of 1565 as well as the incredible hardships endured by the islanders when they were blockaded, starved and had the living daylights bombed out of them for about 3 years during WW2. Having never been in an air raid shelter before, I also found the “Malta at War Museum” in Vittoriosa (one of the “Three Cities”) worth a look, offering an informative explanation of the social effects of the war. Malta was granted a George Cross by King George VI, the highest civilian award for bravery and the only one ever awarded to an entire nation.

We took a trip to the interior of the island to visit Mdina (which was the old capital before Valletta),  nearby Rabat, then the third century labyrinth of St Paul’s catacombs, and to view the “miracle of Mosta”. In 1942  a German bomb crashed through the roof of the Mosta cathedral whilst 300 faithful were attending mass. The bomb didn’t explode and no one died. Spooky! Today you can view a replica of the bomb in the cathedral’s sacristy. We managed to explore quite a bit of the island including Marsaxlokk, a fishing harbour filled with colourful local boats, and Gozo island where you can still find women making lace in the lane outside their homes, although I’m told it is a dying trade.

There are so many things to see and do in Malta including: The Inquisitor’s Palace, the excellent Maritime Museum, the National Museum of Fine Arts (which is loaded with 15th-20th century art), Casa Rocca Piccola (the 16th century palace of a noble Maltese family), the prehistoric, megalithic temples of Tarxien and Hagar Qim with their mysterious carved figures, (“the sleeping lady” thought to be about 5000 years old is on display at the Archeology Museum). The list goes on. In 2017 Malta assumes the Presidency of the EU. In 2018 Valletta will be hosting the title of European Capital of Culture, so I expect it will continue to deliver to anyone planning a visit to this interesting small island nation.

Today we are anchored in the north of the island. Tomorrow we’ll head back to Sicily to meet up with my sister. Hope everything is going well with you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Take care out there!

Ciao for now,


Postcard from Venice

After putting Loki back in the water last month, and being joined by Alan W, we headed down to Venice to spend some time there before heading across to Croatia. Upon our arrival we did a quick run up to San Marco, dodging a cruise ship, vaporetti and various other craft, because it’s just so good seeing Venice from the water! The marina we stayed at is located on Certosa Island, just 15 minutes by vaporetto (waterbus) from the heart of Venice. It’s a non-residential island hosting only a marina, a boutique hotel and assorted goats, rabbits and chickens. A little oasis away from what the locals refer to as “the Bermuda Triangle” (the area between San Marco, Rialto and Accademia), where all the Bermuda short-wearing tourists congregate in their masses. It’s fun watching the crewed gondolas regularly zipping up and down the Certosa channel on their training runs.

I think the best time to see Venice in it’s full glory is very, very early. From Certosa the first vaporetto of the day gets you into San Marco at around 6:30am. There are no tourists about and you can stand at one end of St Mark’s Square with just a couple of nuns and a few dozen pigeons between you and St Mark’s Basilica as the sun rises behind it. At that time of day you can really appreciate the beautiful architecture of the surrounding buildings, including the wonderfully gothic Doges Palace.

You also see the city starting to wake up, with shirtless gondoliers hurrying from their moorings, a massive laundry barge collecting soiled linen from a fancy hotel on the Grand Canal (but then everything comes and goes by barge here) and the street vendors haven’t yet set up their stalls so everywhere is uncluttered.

Fitzy & I loved exploring Venice, visiting the Architecural Biennale, assorted galleries, various palazzo on the Grand Canal and just generally wandering around the picturesque streets and canals. The view from the Campanile tower is also terrific.

I played around with some black & white imagery to try and capture the sense of timelessness that Venice projects.

Sadly, during our stay in Venice Fitzy’s 91 year old Mum, Alma, had a fall and broke her hip. Her surgery went very well initially, but during rehab she took a turn for the worse and became ill quite suddenly, so Adrian and I headed back to Melbourne very quickly. We were all devastated when Alma passed away peacefully. Alma had a great life and has left behind a wonderful legacy with two terrific sons, two lovely grandchildren and a delightful great-grand-daughter. R.I.P. Alma, we will all miss you terribly.

After arriving back in Venice Fitzy completed some major repairs to the anchor winch, but before we set off the locals told us we couldn’t miss the Festa del Redentore, the largest celebration on the Venetian calendar. OMG they weren’t wrong! Every man and his dog were either on the water in Saint Mark’s basin, or along the waterfront to watch the huge fireworks display that goes on for 45 minutes and is really spectacular. Those Venetians really know how to party!

We have now left Italy and are in Croatia, making our way south towards Sicily. Hope all is good in your part of the world. We certainly live in troubled times, so keep safe and keep doing the things that you most enjoy. We are here for a good time, not a long time!



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