Category Archives: Italy

Italian Sojourn Part III, Aeolian Islands, Sicily

Aeolian Islands.

It had originally been our intention to stay a few days right on the Islands.  In my previous visit I stayed in Lipari and I had good memories.  Besides, Lipari can be used as a good base for visiting the other islands.  However, after some further thought we decided to simply visit the islands to get an overview. In this way if we decided in the future to come back we would know where to stay.  And so it was that on July 15th we boarded  a small boat for a 1 day tour of the islands, taking in Vulcano, Lipari and Stromboli with cruiseby’s of Panarea, Alicudi and Filicudi.  It was hot and sunny and being on the boat was the perfect way to go.

Our first stop was Vulcano, an active island that I remember first visiting in 1980.  What stuck most in my mind at that time is the mud baths and the fact that you could venture into the ocean and find your own “fumarole” spewing out hot gas and giving you the effect of a jacuzzi right in the Ocean.  I had been telling my wife to expect a fantastic experience in the sea.  I had forgotten to mention that the Island is still going through growth spasms and that there are many fumaroles spewing out hot gas throughout the Island and that the prevalent smell is of sulphur i.e. rotten eggs.  The smell is like hitting a wall as you step off the boat and onto the pier.  The strong smell of rotting eggs everywhere.  Its pervasive but after a short while you get used to it and it is no longer an issue until you happen to come in proximity of a fissure in the ground spewing out this hot smelly gas.

Leaving TropeaBeach at Capo VaticanoPassengers on our boatLeaving mainland ItalyApproaching VulcanoBeach on VulcanoBeach on VulcanoMud bathWalking in townMud poolRock formationsFumarole

After a few hours on Vulcano we boarded our boat and headed for the main island in the archipelago, Lipari.  This is where I had stayed my first visit.  Lipari town is just the right size.  It has hotels, restaurants and all kinds of interesting things to do.  One of the main exports of the Aeolian Islands is capers and some great Malvasia wine.  We took a tour of the island stopping at several locations to enjoy the scenery and the views.  We drove through fields where they harvested capers and other crops.  At one stop, someone had set up a stall selling local Malvasia wine which we were able to sample and then of course we bought.  From the west side you had a great view of the Islands of Salina, Alicudi and Filicudi.  Back in port we wandered around the pretty town of Lipari and its interesting little side streets.  I didn’t visit the imposing castle in the centre of town.  Maybe next time.

Marina Grande LipariColourful clothes out to dryOverlook of the town of LipariView from the busOverlook at QuattrochiCoves at QuattrochiAgaveOverlook to other islandsDowntown LipariAlcoveSide StreetHarbourMarina piccola

After Lipari our schedule took us to the higly active island of Stromboli.  This island erupts a few times an hour.  It is most spectacular at night and I can attest to this because I saw it at night the last time I visited.  In fact today there are night excursions to Stromboli that take you around the Island just to witness the eruptions and red lava flows.  Its still impressive during the day as you can see from the photos.

Stromboli is also a vacation destination of the very wealthy.  Dolce and Gabbana have a summer villa here as do a number of prominent Italians and non-Italians.  When we were there we saw a number of outstanding yachts, including the Athena, one of the longest sailing yachts in the world as well as the Regina D’Italia, the yacht belonging to Dolce and Gabbana.

AthenaStromboliSmall town StromboliActivity on the VolcanoEruption and flowClose up of the eruptionRegina D'ItaliaStromboli beachBeach at Capo VaticanoLight house Capo VaticanoApproaching TropeaAccompanying the ship

There is not much on the Island per se.  Even the towns are quite small and some are accessible only by water.  The dock we landed at had a dark volcanic beach nearby and we spent some time there in the shadow of the Volcano.  The beach was not of  fine sand but more small rocks of volcanic stone.  But the water was exceptional.  It was warm but more importantly it was crystal clear.  I wish I had brought my snorkel but even without it visibility was phenomenal.  It was at least as good as Grand Cayman and other Carribbean dive places I have been.

After a while on the beach it was time to board the boat for the return back to the mainland – about 2 hours.  It was a good time to just relax and be lulled to sleep by the movement of the ship.  We returned to Capo Vaticano to drop off some of the passengers then headed back out to sea, past the lighthouse at Capo Vaticano and back to Tropea for a fabulous meal and evening wandering around town.  What a great way to spend the day!!

Another day in Tropea and then it was off the Rome.

 

Also posted in Italian Sojourn 2012, italy trip 2012, travel

Italian Sojourn Part I July 11, 12, 2012

Arrival

We arrived in Rome early, about 11:15 AM.  I thought that would give me a bit of a head start to the holiday.  It wasn’t to be.  At baggage claim the luggage started to come out slowly, in dribs and drabs and in no apparent order. I thought we’d be there forever when all of a sudden my bag trickled out and I pulled it off the conveyor.  A few more minutes, I thought, and Marsha’s would appear and we’d be off to get our car.  I don’t know what happened!  What I do know is that at 1:30 a small handfull of us were still standing in baggage claim watching 7 very familiar, battered and orphaned suitcases carouselling around the conveyor.  After what seemed an eternity of non activity, a new batch of suitcases began to tumble down the hatch – and yes Marsha’s was in this little elite group.

 

We now proceeded to the car rental floor to get our car.  I took my number and waited as some Swedes or Danes tried to cirumvent what I am quite sure were insanely bureacratic requirements that the attendant was unwilling to forgo and the Swedes/Danes were unable or unwilling to provide.  In any event another hour passed watching this little drama but at last we got our car.  I had prebooked a small “Ford Fiesta” type car because we were intending to use it very sparingly.  We got a small sized Mercedes instead – nice little surprise.  And more importantly, it ran on diesel (something I always specify).

Marsha with our car at a rest stop with Mt. Vesuvius in the Background

Marsha with our little Mercedes at a rest stop with Mt. Vesuvius in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We loaded the luggage and were soon off to Sperlonga, a seaside resort about an hour and a half south of Rome.  I had arranged for us to be in Sperlonga for a couple of days to relax and overcome the jet lag effect.  Rather than take the autostrada, we took a Strada Nazionale in the direction of the town of Latina to get there.  As soon as we got away from the airport, we began to feel the “Italian” experience – the clear blue sky, colourful vegetation comprising Mediterranean Pines, oleander shrubs the size of trees, bougainvillea, small cars, old country homes, a countryside sprinkled with ancient ruins and the many fabulous small eateries along the way.

 

We stopped at our first AutoGrill and had our first pannino.  What a divinely simple pleasure.  The sandwich consisted of prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella di Bufala, toasted just right.  It wasn’t just the ingredients that made the sandwich so exceptional, it was the freshness of the ingredients and the perfection to which the sandwich was toasted.  Something as simple as that tells so much about the eating habits and expectations of a nation.  This was going to be a great “eating” holiday.  We were so looking forward to our first serious sit down meal in Italy.

 

Sperlonga

We arrived in Sperlonga in late afternoon and immediately headed to our hotel – Hotel Grazia.  My reservation specified that ours was a larger room with balcony.  It was nice but I’d hate to see a standard room.  For example, the bathroom door rubbed the side of the sink in order to close.  The balcony could comfortably accommodate two small dogs.  But all things aside, the hotel was perfectly located, one block away from the beachfront on a quiet street with a nice breakfast included.  Once we got our luggage into the room we headed off to the beach to catch the late afternoon rays on a “public beach”.  The beach was wonderful and pristine and the water warm and clear.

 

After the beach we did a walk about the Town and made our way to the upper, older part of the city.  We had a fabulous meal at one of the great restaurants along the main promenade between two large open squares.  We started with mussels in wine and bruschetta, then I had linguine with vongole (clams) and Marsha had pesce mista (assortment of seafood), topped with great local white wine and an espresso/cappuccino.  We then walked over to a gelateria to have a gelato.  What a great evening.  The meal totally lived up to our expectations.

Sperlonga bougainvillea framing a doorWatchtower keeping an eye out for Saracen invadersSperlonga along the main street with overlook on one side and restaurants on the otherSperlonga a small streetSperlonga street sceneOne of the many neat little streets/alleyways in SperlongaMarsha sittling along the wall with a great overlook to the SeaWhere we went for gelato after our fabulous meal as seen earlier in the daySunset in Sperlonga after a sunny dayOur second course at the restaurant where we ate our first nightSperlonga the restaurant where we had our first night's mealSperlonga the ice cream shop later that evening

The next day started off sunny so we rented an umbrella and beach lounge chairs at one of the nearby beaches.  I decided to go for a nice tour of upper Sperlonga while Marsha relaxed at the beach.  By mid morning it became overcast so I headed back to the beach and Marsha and I decided to visit a nearby Cistercial Monaastery called Fossanova.  Beautiful location and great cloister.  It is also the location of where St. Thomas Aquinas died.  We then returned to our beach chairs and umbrella in Sperlonga to relax in the afternoon sun and refresh in the sea.

 

We then headed back up to old Sperlonga looking forward to another great meal.  Boy were we in for a surprise.  We sat at a restaurant for an aperitivo as we waited for supper time – after 8 PM.  We lingered a bit too long and by the time we got up, the restaurants had started to fill.  Marsha left her name with the waiter at one restaurant so that we could be seated once a table became available.  I was getting impatient and so I went down the street to another restaurant who happened to have a table available.  From a distance I managed to get Marsha’s attention and waved her to the new restaurant.  As we sat down and started to look at the menu, we noticed a large party of about 20 people two tables away who had just put in their order.  We thought we would not be served for a while and debated whether to stay or not but in the end we decided to stay.  A few minutes later we heard a voice calling “Marsha?… Marsha?….   We looked around and suddenly Marsha identified the source of the call – it was a friend from work who happened to be in Rome taking a course with a group of other teachers.  They had decided to spend the last few days of their time in Italy in Sperlonga.  In no time, several other people from the large party came over to our table all of whom knew Marsha.  Talk about a surprise and coincidence.  Needless to say that was the highlight of our second evening in Sperlonga although the meal was pretty good too.  It was not to be the last such surprise.  Below are a few of the photos I took of Sperlonga and Fossanova that day as well as the photos of Marsha’s friends that we bumped into.

Sperlonga a quiet corner in townSperlonga street with laundrySperlonga narrow little streetIMG_6548 Sperlonga these were some bicycle riders taking a break before starting out again Sperlonga panoramic view towards the seaSperlonga I saw a few kids kicking around a soccer ballSperlonga sign above an ice cream shopSperlonga some items hanging from a souvenir shopSperlongs display of running shoes of different coloursSperlong this was a pretty little alcove I came acrossSperlonga I liked the symmetry of the hanging laundrySperlonga neat coming together of streetsSperlonga a narrow street through townSperlonga colourful laundry hanging above an archwaySperlonga I loved this view looking down a narrow stairway leading to a small parketteSperlonga this is part of a much larger bougainvillea bush.  I loved the colourSperlonga view looking out over a terrace towards the lookout towerFossanova exterior of main church at abbey of FossanovaMarsha sitting on a bench wating for abbey to open.  It was closed until 4PM.Fossanova this was the entrance to the medieval section of FossanovaPriverno little town near Fossanova.  We had a couple of hours to kill until the monastery opened and we went to this pretty town and had lunchFossanova abbey view looking from the scriptorum towards the cloistersPart of the cloister in Fossanova.  It was such a beautiful place for contemplationCloister view from inside looking outAfter Fossanova we went back to the beach and the weather had cleared beautifully.  Marsha on the beachSperlonga I went into the water and took a shot back at the beachSperlonga this is a photo of a wagon selling everything you might ever want or need for the beachSperlonga this is a composite of angles and colours coming togetherSperlonga while we waited for a table to open up I ran around taking some photosThis is the restaurant  where we were supposed to eat the night we ran into Marsha's friends at another restaurantSperlonga reunion Marsha with friends from Canada.  Wierd coincidenceMarsha with friends at their tableMarsha and friends showing the name of the restaurant where we all ate that night

 

 

 

 

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Venice Lagoon with Gondolas

Gondolas waiting for hire in the lagoon

This is taken from the quayside of the Piazetta in Venice.  It’s the only place where you can take a photo without people in it because it’s at the water’s edge and looks out across the lagoon to San Giorgio Island.  I have a photo of this scene in black and white which I was going to post, but I felt the scene needed some colour to add interest.  For me Venice never ceases to amaze even with the huge crowds of summer.  This is a high dynamic range photo

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By the shores of Lake Como

Sitting on a park bench in Bellaggio on the shores of Lake Como, Italy

Here are two very fortunate people looking out onto Lake Como in Northern Italy from the beautifully located city of Bellaggio.  This is the real Bellaggio that the Vegas hotel was named after.  The one in Vegas is nice but I think I like the setting of this Bellaggio better.  It is located at the north end of a peninsula which runs up the middle of Lake Como with the result that both arms of the lake wrap around it.  The city itself is quite attractive and as some might know, George Cluny purchased a villa nearby.  The town is not only surrounded by the lake but by the majestic Alps.  Boats ply the waters taking tourists and residents from one small town to the other.  Because the mountains descend almost to the shoreline, the lake is protected and enjoys a very mild climate considering it is so far north and hardier species of palm trees are not uncommon.  This was taken in August 2008.

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