On Emirates First Class Brisbane to Barcelona, I travelled well, barring the unfortunate occurrence of leaving my mobile phone on charge in the lounge at Dubai. Sleeping arrangements are the best of any airline I have had the luxury to enjoy. Though, it was a maturity- testing decision to sleep, or sip through the stratosphere the 2004 Dom Perignon in company with fine cuisine and in-flight movies. On the leg out from Brisbane, a slow-cooked veal shank was enjoyed. Unlike most airline meat dishes it was succulent, and went well with a Bordeaux second, a blend with those unmistakeable farmyard floor flavours.
I met up with my sailing buddy, Chef Gin Sling in Barcelona. My first visit to Barcelona. An historic town which sprawls out along the South Coast of Spain, and is bracketed by a mountain range, the . I camped in a small but exorbitantly priced hotel with shoe horn rooms on the main tourist thoroughfare, “La Rambla”. This term comes from the historic location of this street along a natural watercourse; though mostly it is people that ebb and flow along. For about 50 E take the city tour which is well sign posted. They highlight the massive and perennially unfinished Church, designed and commenced by the famous Spanish Architect, Gaudi. His whimsical approach to design is enjoyable to behold, using on the surface a type of cracked porcelain for colour and texture.
On Vuelin it is a short connection to Palma de Majorca, in the reverse of our trip the previous year. Be careful with baggage limits, as they will charge you. This was a working visit, staying at the comfortable Hotel Saratoga, to look at Hoek yachts with their dedicated if peppery Broker from Amsterdam, who became a good friend, and assisted us with our charter in Portugal. Apart from a little stress when they put their quoted rates up, the Hotel was reasonable value, and the tariff included a top notch morning smorgasbord, with bottomless cups of coffee, and working wi-fi. After this experience I was definitely down to two meals a day, and we were pleased to host our Broker friend. Around the town we enjoyed some nice restaurants, a local joint that did great salads and pizza with cold Spanish beer; just down from the Saratoga on the corner of the next street, is a lovely Italian restaurant. Try their insulate verde with a pizza. At night Chef, the Broker and I enjoyed some fine cuisine in local restaurants, and prices not bad by both Barcelona and Australian standards. Spanish restaurants generally do not serve dinner till after 8 pm, so we found a late lunch the go, be sure to try the Barcolo, a local cod done in tomato paste, with boiled potatoes, washed down with a 10 Euro bottle of Spanish champagne.
Palma is a centre for the Super Yacht industry, and yachts come from all over for re fit, and servicing. There are some huge yachts on hard stand. Pendennis of Falmouth, a renown English boat builder, has yard here. I gather that since the GFC other boatyards in Europe are suffering, but Palma was going gangbusters.
We were privileged to inspect a number of fine Hoek yachts, including “Drumfire”, 78 feet, “Santana”, 65 feet, and several others the majority of which at the time of writing are either under contract, or sold, two in fact to Australia. Despite the dreadful exchange rate, there are enthusiasts out there who will pay the price for these quality yachts.
We also hooked up with the dour Dutch Captain of the “Bontekoening”, also 78 ft, but with a smaller rig and less of a keel than the “Drumfire”. The layout however is better for cruising, with aft cockpit, deck house, then down to quarter cabins, forward past the engine compartment to galley to starboard, then into main cabin with nav to port, and seating to starboard. In Med style, the main bedroom cabin is forward. There is a decent deck area forward to accommodate a tender (davits definitely upside the line of these lovely Truly Classic yachts). Furling is in-mast, cutter rig with two headsails on power rollers. “Bontekoening” is available for charter most of the year, and we had discussed a charter in either Greece or Turkey. There is a third Hoek 78 kicking around, the “Hartbeat” with again a less go-fast rig than the “Drumfire”.
On our last night in Palma, I recall the truly memorable sight of a full moon rising over the Cathedral.
The next leg of our trip took us to Palermo. Beware of Vuelin’s charges, an E160 for an extra checked bag, E70 for the domestic leg, and E90 for the international. They say Qantas is rapacious? No praise for Vuelin, I am afraid.
Impressions of Palmero. I like Siciliy, my first visit. Palmero is an ancient city with many of the older buildings showing their age but in a comfortable and unpretentious way, kind of like your grandmothers house.
Arriving at our hotel, Hotel de las Palmas, we found our man, Angelo, our saviour, who was able to source our first requirement, ice to go with our arrival G and Ts, as we sunk into the massive Art Deco chairs in our comfortable rooms. Our old Hotel was gracious in its regal if faded spender.
We walked along yes you guessed it the waterfront, Via Roma, in deference to the ancient Emperors of an ancient Empire that governed Sicily for centuries, the marina and rowing club. Down a back street not far from our Hotel, with some guidance, we found an excellent classic family ristorante. For starters with opened a 500 ml bottle of local red Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2008 (about A$15) from the Avide of Sicily, then tucked into a delicious veal parmagagna, with bread, olives, and a platter of bucatini with fried sardines. The bucatini is a spaghetti style pasta but wider with a hole down the middle (how on earth do they make that?). Our French and Italian speaking waitress was most gracious. Our dessert, after some arm twisting, parfet di mandrel con colata di cioccolato fondente. Translated, a type of ice-cream containing a crunchy almond, and bathed in a semi-sweet chocolate sauce which created a tantalising blend of flavour and sweetness. Best meal in Sicily. With wine, the tariff was about A$60, so it is possible to enjoy the finer things in Sicily without breaking the bank, provided you shop around. Most of the locals are not to flush, so eat where they eat. Hotel meals, apart from the inclusive breakfast, were somewhat disappointing.
They say of Italy, that nothing works. Of Sicily they may say that nothing works, but at least they are nice about it. Still I liked Sicily and feel the rank and file Sicilian has been given a bad rap in the American Mafioso movies. Sicilians complain that they are paying all their money to the Italians and their government, but not getting anything in return…sound a familiar lament? They regard the Euro as an expensive imposition, and things were definitely cheaper for the locals under the Lira.
Our ever competent Captain Luca had arranged a private car transfer from Palermo to Milazzo to join with our charter on “Miaplacidus”. Another Sicilian treasure turned up in the form of our drivers, who spoke some English and whisked us safely to our destination in their Mercedes. On the way to Milazzo, it was discovered that some important items remained at the Hotel, so our ever-understanding driver Antonio accommodated these two crazies (who me?)and swung graciously back to the “big smoke”. We finally cleared Palermo in slow traffic on this busy Saturday morning when every Señora in her Fiat was out. The road-side fruit and vege stall were overflowing with fresh produce, including juicy local tomatoes and strawberries.
We travelled past the ancient Monastery of Santa Maria de Tindari, on a high rocky bluff overlooking the info blue sea. We plan to pay our respects to La Madonna de Tindari, the patron Saint of fishermen, on our return.
Due to high winds, change of plans, and the local Tour Guide, Nancy, had organised for us to take the fast hydrofoil across to the Aeolian Islands, rather than sail there as planned originally. We were chaperoned through the weekend crowd, bought our “bigletti” for 30 Euro, and with bags and porters trailing were whisked onto our Hydrofoil. The big diesels were gunned as we left the harbour and we flew across the Aeolian Sea, with Milazzo fading into the distance, and the volcanic peaks of the Aeolians materialising out of the heat haze. We entered port of the cindery volcano, called Volcan, our first of the Aeolian Island, in local spelling, Eolians.
There in the confusion of the dock, was our friend Chef Roberto, appearing about 10 kg lighter, after exercise and diet, difficult achievements in Brasil where he has been running a restaurant for several months. For this trip, our new Capitaine, long-time friend and business partner of Luca Lianza, Capitaine Stefano, an affable, lanky Italian with a broad, bright smile. Our baggage alone nearly sank the RIB, so leaving them with Stefano, we strolled along the dock to board our “Miaplacidus”, now on her third week’s charter after coming out of the boat yard, resplendent in a fresh coat of paint, new mainsail, upgraded electronics, new cockpit table, new bedding, all changes we could discern.
So fellow adventurers, we pause the narrative at this point, and will continue under the heading of “Volcanoes of the Eolians, Cruise of the ‘Miaplacidus'”.