La Vida del Vagubondo, 2014.
I took Emirates First Class and had a good trip, barring the unfortunate occurrence of leaving my mobile phone on charge in the lounge, and was unsuccessful with its retrieval. The sleeping arrangements are the best I have ever experienced on the airlines. It was a choice that tested ones maturity whether to sleep or enjoy the 2004 Dom Perignon in company with fine cuisine and movies. On the leg out from Brisbane the slow cooked veal shank was moist, succulent and went well with the second Bordeaux, a blend with those unmistakable farm-yard floor flavours.
I met up with Chef Gin Sling, my sailing buddy in Barcelona. My first visit to this historic town, which sprawls our along the south coast of Spain, and is bracketed by moderate mountains. We stayed in a small hotel with small shoe-horn rooms on the main tourist thoroughfare, La Rambla. This term derives from the natural water course, when it rains. Barcelona is a touristy place, with prices to match. For about 50 E each, we did take the city tour, which was worthwhile, and got to see the massive and perennially unfinished church designed and started by the famous architect Gaudi. His whimsical approach to design is enjoyable to the eye. His surfaces use a type of cracked porcelain tile, to the effect of colour and texture.
From there we took the Vuelin flight to Palma de Majorca, and enjoyed four days at the comfortable, elegant Hotel Saratoga. We had some business to do looking at Hoek yachts in company with their peppery Broker. We found a little local restaurant that did salads and pizza, with cold beer that got us through with a late lunch most days, and in the mornings we enjoyed the well presented smorgasbord at the Hotel. The wi-fi worked, and the bottomless cafe machine was enjoyable. I was down to two meals a day after the big breakfast, and usually caught the tail end of lunch, as the Spanish usually take an evening meal from 8 pm onwards. With our friend from Amsterdam, we enjoyed some nice meals but the author suffered from some type of food poisoning and was off form for a few days. Just along from the hotel on the same block, walking towards the harbour, is a lovely Italian restaurant where we had one of our best meals, and good value too. There ensalata verde was beautifully presented, and went well with a pizza . In this quarter of town, you can find interesting boutiques, or is department stores are your style, try the Carte d’Englis a few blocks from the Saratoga. We were busy and never did do the city bus tour.On recommendation we enjoyed a late lunch at I ordered the Barcolo, a local cod done in a tomato paste, with boiled potatoes. For 10 Euros we ordered a local champagne, which was just okay.
Palma is a centre for the yachting industry, and the local boat yard is going strong, with some huge yachts on hard stand. I gather that since the GFC other boatyards in Europe are suffering, and doing work at now reduced prices to stay open. Maybe their prices pre GFC were un realistic.
We took a taxi down to Palma and hooked up with the Captain of a 78 ft Hoek design the “Bontekoening”. This is a similar hull to the “Drumfire” but with a different layout, which I preferred as a cruising layout. Aft cockpit, deck house aft, then down to quarter cabins, then forward past the engine compartment to starboard to a better, larger, galley, then into a main cabin space with nag to port and seating to starboard. There is a large cabin forward with its own head and shower. Importantly, there is a decent deck area forward of the house to accommodate tender. In mast furling, and two headsails on rollers. A charter in Greece or Turkey is being discussed other events permitting later this year. There is another of the 78s kicking around the Med, the “Hartbeat” which I have not yet seen.
A memorable sight at Palma was a full moon rising just over the Cathedral.
On our next leg, we overnighted in Palermo after flying in from Palma de Majorca via Barcelona. On Vuelin the pre paid 160 E for the extra checked bag was just a killer 70 for the domestic leg and 90 for the international. The say Qantas is bad?! So, no praise for Vuelin.
Impressions of Palmero, an ancient city that had perhaps seen better days with many of the city’s older buildings showing their age. We walked along the Via Roma, in deference the ancient Emperors of an ancient empire, to the marina and inspected the rowing club, before turning back to find an excellent classic ristorante just down the road from our hotel. For about $15 Australian we enjoyed a 500ml bottle of local red Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2008, from Avide of Sicily, then tucked into a delicious veal parmagana, with bread, olives, and a platter of bucatini with fried sardines with lemon. The bucatini is a spaghetti style pasta but wider with a hole down the middle. Our French (and Italian) speaking waitress was most gracious. Our dessert, after a little arm twisting, which we shared, parfet di mandrel con colata di cioccolato fondente. This was a type of ice cream containing a crunchy almond, and bathed in a semi-sweet chocolate sauce which created a tantalising blend of both flavour and sweetness. With wine, the bill was about $60 Australian, 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 too flush, and this is what they do. We found our ristorante by asking a local shopman where he eats. Similarly, not far from the hotel is a very nice residenzia for 100E a night, about $150 Australian. Have a look online at booking.com .
The say of Italy, that nothing works. And, the Italians are up in arms about paying all these monies to their government, and not getting anything back in return sound a familiar lament? As you travel Italy, there is a common expression with both hands in the air. Our man, Angelo was our saviour and was able to source our first requirement, ice to go with our G and Ts on arrival. The old hotel was gracious in its regal but faded splendour. We were not far from the old girl and rolled back to a hearty sleep in huge double beds, with crisp fresh sheets, a salve and balm to the soul. But as far as reliable telephone, and wi-fi, well don’t get your hopes too high.
On the way to Milazzo, it was discovered some important items remained at the Hotel de las Palmas, so our ever-understanding driver Antonio encompassed these two crazies and swung back graciously to the “big smoke”. This detour added at least another hour to our trip to Milazzo, but we finally cleared Palmero in slow traffic on this busy Saturday morning where every man and his Fiat was out. The fruit and veg stalls interested me with juicy local tomatoes and strawberries. We passed the Santa Maria de Tindari, an ancient monastery on a high rocky bluff overlooking the indigo blue sea, and planned to return as we had a night in Milazzo on return from our cruise. This cathedral is famous for the patron Saint of the fisherman, whose identity is unknown. We plan to say a prayer there on the return.
At the ships’ dock the lovely Nancy was ready to chaperone us through the crowds to the office to purchase the “biglietti” for about 30 euro and with bags trailing we were whisked onto the Hydrofoil. They gunned the diesels as we cleared the harbour and we flew across the sea, with Milazzo fading into the distance. As we approached we were spellbound by the cindery volcano called Volcan, our first of the Aeolians. Hereafter I will use the local spelling, Eolians.
In the confusion of the dock there was our friend Roberto to meet us, now about 10 kg lighter, after exercise and diet, which understandably is quite difficult to do in Brasil where he has been running a restaurant over the winter months. For this trip, our new Capitaine, long-time friend and business partner of Luca Lianza, is Stefano, a pleasant, lanky Italian with a broad, bright smile. Our bags alone nearly sunk the RIB, so leaving them with Stefano, we walked along the dock to board our “Miaplacidus”, now on her third week after coming out of the yard and resplendent in a fresh coat of paint, new main, upgraded electrics a new cockpit table, and new mattress, changes we could discern.
We cast off, and anchored in an adjoining bay. There Captaine Stefano and I set about making things topside, ship-shape, and cleaning down decks. We stowed our gear, and unpacked our Gin for cocktails, enjoying a tranquil sunset, admiring the rugged slopes of Volcan, and were al little perturbed to see side vents fuming, and steam arising from the top of this smoking, simmering active volcano. This is one of the two active volcanoes in the group.
We enjoyed two wines, the first a red, Cusumano, Benuara, a blend of the local Nero D’Avola and Syrah. According Roberto, Nero D’Avola is a dark grape and grown on the unique terroir of volcanic ash soil. This went well with “pasta sagne incannulate, con vongole veraci ,aglio extravergine di olive pepe bianco e prezzemolo” . This pasta is a spiral pasta which was accompanied by a clam (vongole) sauce. Fresh-caught octopus was our main fare, ” polpo bollito con olio extravergine di olive e limone”. This was accompanied by chardonnay, also a Cusumano wine, angimbe, Tenuta ficuaa, 2013. This is a delightful fruity slightly dry white which was stand alone. Roberto followed up with a fruit ice cream yoghurt with bush fruits with pistachio sauce.
After a robust sleep, I was up early the next morning for the mandatory espresso coffee and when Roberto stirred soon bacon and scrambled eggs ascended the companionway. I had done my wipe down of the new squabs so we were ready to rock and roll when Chef Gin Sling arose from her slumbers.
The wind was light, east to south-east, and we set sail past Lipari famous for its white cliffs, the white stone of pumice, which in earlier times was mined. the village of Cannetto was next along the coast. There were several islands ahead, and despite best attempts to gain ground to windward, we settled for Panarea and anchored on the west side. Panarea is known as the place of the jet setters, who have mansions on the sheltered (from the Mistral) south-east side. Just a word about the aspect of these islands, during the winter, they can be hit by the mistral which blows in from the north-west, so most of the towns are set on the more sheltered south-east side.
We lunched in a rocky cove on the West side of Panarea where we anchored in company with a Lagoon catamaran flying the Union Jack. Roberto had been hard at work, and todays’ lunch, the first of the trip, featured another rendition of our polpo, “pasta aloo scoglio , con polpo, pomodorini, capperi , vongole , basilico e prezzemolo sfumati al vino bianco”. Our salad today was “insalada di mare con polpo, capperi, sedano olive bianche , carote , condita con sale limone ed olio extra vergine di olive.” Accompanying wine, a Sicilian method-champagnoise, Charme Firriato, Bianco, 2013. Dry citrusy aperitif style but quite nice cold with our salads.
Our wind Gods were obviously at the cinema with friends and family enjoying a gelato on this Saturday afternoon, as we sailed gently back towards Salinas, doing about four knots under jib, main, and mizzen on a broad reach. The sea was calm and the sky progressively overcast and grey.
In the evening we reached our anchorage on the west side of Salinas and dropped the pick in 12 metres of bouldery bottom. Actually, you could discern layering in the rock, and we were actually sitting in the caldera of an ancient volcano. The is a rock with a hole at the north end of this anchorage, and exploration is planned for the morning. The weather had cooled, and we settled into our evening, now with i pads and Apple macs out for writing, and emails, and news from the outside world.
Roberto fired up with a dinner of “salsiccia cotta al vino biano con contorno di come de rape e palate al limone”, followed by his “gelato di joygourt on frutta”. The wine of the night was Planeta, La Segreta, Doc Sicilia, 2012 50% Nero d’Avola, 25% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc.
Overnight the cloud came in, and we had some rain. Still we had a good pos’y, and the anchor held. The next morning I was feeling better and after the morning constitutional of black espresso coffee, unpacked the dive gear and went for a snorkel, in company with the “wall of death” of jelly fish, which are best avoided. I got stung last year in Ibiza and itched like crazy for a week afterwards. Despite my all over precautions, I took a hit on the upper lip. The water is still cool, now mid May, and I was glad of a wetsuit, my new 7 mm semi dry, and 6 mm Swedish hood, the hood from Herb Ilic, and the suit from Giacomo at Sundive, Byron Bay New South Wales, Australia. On the return, we set up a scuba tank and I dived down to try and free the centre board. No amount of coaxing in Italian, or Aussie would free it. Great inventions these, but only when they work. I am planning a further assault, with a tank of fresh air, and some rope to winch the board down.
We came out of the bay into a stiff 15 kt breeze which had us with full sail wet the gunnel’s. Easing off the mizzen reduced the weather helm, and we lay about 45 degrees to the wind without the board, and at times hit 8.5 knots with easy helm. We tacked up the north side of Salinas into the passage between Volcan and Salinas then motored into our anchorage in a pretty bay on the west side of Volcan.
Lunch was soon to follow, with three wines, two “left overs” from the night before when the others stayed up, Sibillano inzolia (inzolia is a type of grape I don’t know); and Surarmarchesa, Passo Delle Mule, also a Nero D”Avola. I had the Chiaramonte, a Nero D’vola, 2012 with an aniseed liquorice flavour I was beginning to appreciate. This was a pure blood, unlike the blend of last night. We were hungry after a long sail, and to begin, an anti pasto of a white cheese : “pescorino romano con pete e marmellata di peer con pistachio croccante sopra”; smoked beef , “bresaola con sale e limone e pepe bianco”, and another meat, white breast of turkey “ta petto di tacchino con salmoriglio”. The white cheese is dry and tangy, and is made near Rome. A main of “ravioli con prociutto crudo san daniele conduit con salsa di funghi porcini e prezzemolo” followed. This was a fulsome dish, which served hot was welcome in the cool wind. Dessert, of “mousse di fragile con cioccolato e granola di mandrel e crosta di cannoli siciliano” washed down with “limonecello”, a lemon liquor complimented the meal.
Climb of volcano. I was up early and waited with my coffee, organising my gear for the climb of Volcan. All of the seven islands of the Eolian are in some state of volcanic activity, with Volcan and Stromboli the most active. Each island is different, having its own personality. It was a pleasant morning walk through the town of Volcan, to pick up the sign of “Cratare”, so following the well demarcated road, I was off. There are numerous wild flowers on the track, and I photographed a pea flowering in a profusion of gold. There is also a lavender coloured flower, and numerous thistle like flowers, with sharp spikes. These I judged to be a weed. There was not formal guiding on Volcan, just hit the trail and go up. The way is clear. The cratare was at 800 m, but it may be another 100 or so metres to the apex where you can admire the sweeping view, and look down on the steaming ridge of sulphur. I took the right hand track and went along the ridge line to the summit, and then descended to the fields of hell fire and brimstone.
I met the crew in town, and we enjoyed a cool beer at a port side ristorante. The proprietaire had just baked fresh bread so this was enjoyed Volcan style with butter and honey which quite hit the spot after my exertions.
Fixing the centre board. Our centre board was jammed up into the case (like last year). A couple of days before I had tried to lever it down with my arm, but apart from fearing for my arm, this was not the engineering solution required for the job. I cam up with another idea. Captain had charged a scuba tank, and it was over the side for me. I devised a rope arrangement, which from forward, I took around the elb ow of the board up in the case, and out the other side, and forward to a wind. With the Capitaine winching, and me underwater jiggling the board from side to side, it came down. I think that centre boards need some form of locking pin, sacrificial if you hit anything, that can hold the board down. This board is composite and tends to float up. With it down we did five degrees or so better to the wind so set off across calm seas to Panarea, but not before we lunched. Off the wind, though she tended to round up, despite a well eased main and mizzen, ah the vagaries of yachts. I suppose I do like the concept of a centre board, through they have their drawbacks.
As we found, mostly around the Eolian Islands, the wind is always on the nose, so we did short and long boards till the wind gave up the ghost, and we fetched into Panarea under motor.
Our next port of call is the exclusive jet set enclave of Panarea. We motored in at dusk and dropped anchor at some distance from the wharf where the water ship was disgorging its precious cargo. Here in the islands, there is no water on land, and since time immemorial water for human consumption has had to be imported, along with all other consumable fluids, wine, beer, and so on. The plants on the mountains have evolved an adaptation and collect water from dew. You can feel the moisture and you walk down the mountain in the dusk. It gets cool after dark, so wear warm clothes.
We said hello to the folks aboard an Oyster 72 carrying a tender on massive stern davits. They were naturallement Anglais and the bloke in charge looked as though he knew what he was doing. There is a sister ship to this “Kealoha”, a Hoek 90 footer.
Cocktails at Panarea. We went ashore for sushi, but found that Roberto’s mates had not yet arrived for the season. So, discovering a de luxe cocktail lounge, with a lovely view upstairs along the main drag, we settled in for cocktails. This was a ritzy ritzy experience. At some $22 each for a cocktail, we also enjoyed platters for bruschetta and deep-fried savoury rice both of which were delicious. Soon our table was awash with a mixed collection of exotic drinks, Stefano had his favourite the Cuba Libre (like a Bundy and Coke) and I revisited an old favourite the Manhattan, though with a Panarea improvisation, a twist of orange peel instead of a maraschino cherry. We conversed with he proprietor a pleasant guy, who had personally decorated his establishment with exquisite vases and furnishings from Morocco. His collection featured the dark King and Queen of Morocco, in ceramic busts. These are also seen in the local shops in white. These porcelain statues are popular on this island, and serves to remind us of the geographic proximity and historic links of the southern Mediterranean with the continent of Africa.
The next morning we went ashore for a look around, this picturesque island, with its white-painted houses of stone, and accompanying blue ceramic tiles. There are two churches, one at each end, and we visited both. In one the guest book contained an inscription of a Panarean-American who returned to her homeland two generations later, after her forebears migrated to the New World of America in 1900. She was able to find the graves of her ancestors in the tidy cemetery adjoining the church and wrote eloquently of her experiences and impressions in the Church visitors’ book. Looking around, we found the local bakery, and enjoyed a slice of papas pizza and bought bread for the galley.
I would like to go back and photograph around Panarea some more and plan to do this on the return from Stromboli but it was up anchor and away to the active volcano of Stromboli on Wednesday morning. Roberto, knowing what lay ahead for me, produced a delicious pasta lunch pasta alls norma , con melenzane fritte ,pomodoro ,,basilica e scaglie di ricotta salata , accompanied by more of our D’Avola, with bread, and a second course of and a dessert of a gels rossi berry granite. Stromboli is famous for its climb of the volcano. So, when in Stromboi, do as the Strombolians do, and go up. In earlier times, much of the island was cultivated, and we saw evidence of this with fig trees. I did not get the name of it, but there is a native tree. The alpine flowers were not only beautiful, but produced a lovely scent in the dusk air.
Ascent of Stromboli is best done with a guide, and they have a well organised programme for this. Take with you two thermal layers to change into at the top, and your Goretex over jacket as you will need it; but by the time you are down you will be wearing only one layer. They didn’t let me wear my Salomon mesh climbing shoes, as a higher cut is preferred so your are not totally glugged up by sand. In May, if you leave on the 5 pm shift you will capture the sunset over a smoking vent, and then are in place for the fireworks when it is dark, and are down by about 11 pm. I got outfitted in ankle support boots, walking pole, and helmet, then joined a group of twenty of so, mainly French adventurers, and off we went in the late afternoon. Prices, I thought, were reasonable, E 25 for the climb, and E 10 to rent the gear. Estimated three hours to the summit. Our guide kept us going. This trek is not for the un fit, nor for the faint hearted. There is a point of no return at 500 metres, where you can turn back on the trail. Once past this point, it becomes more difficult to descend the ascending track, so you are committed to the top, then descent on the volcanic sand track. There is as an alternative a good walk along a coast track which was done by Chef Gin Sling to a ristorante, from which views can be obtained of the summit. But for this intrepid explorer, it was up and up. Once past the line of vegetation, the trail zig zagged up through the volcanic rock to the double summit. From the first, where there are wind shelters, you can see the edge of one volcanic vent, but the really best view is obtained after hiking the ridge line then looking down into the main six vents, each glowing hot orange. We paused for photos of the sunset, and a dusk made our way to the summit for the volcanic fireworks. With a roar of a jet engine, the vents threw molten rock high in the air, and created a fiery spectacle in the night.
The coming down allows discovery of new muscle groups, but was eased by the trail which was mostly volcanic sand. On the first leg, which was quite dangerous for the risk of falling rocks, we did not stop from the top, to about 400 m. The Rolling Stones band apparently was named for the Stromboli experience. At this point, we stopped to refresh, remove helmets, and take to boots which were now full of sand. All were haggard on the return, but once return to the ship, beer and wine refreshed, and Roberto prepared a warming meal of chic hen, rice,and vegetables.–peperoni gialli scottati in padella con salsa di soia e un po di miele ,
Overnight the wind shifted 180 degrees, and we rocked and rolled. The next day dawned clear with light winds. We motor sailed around the north side of Stromboli admiring the volcanic vents from the sea, and were captivated by the roar and smoke of the eruptions. Setting course we headed back to Panasera, being afflicted by the photographers curse. We anchored off Panarea and kitted up for a photographic expedition. Panarea offers an intense micro environment for the photographer and a delightful few hours was invested in photography of churches, stone houses painted in all colours of the rainbow, plaques at the entry way of houses, and well-tended gardens. The place reeked of overhead, in the immortal words of chef Gin Sling. I found it a photographers dream and was captivated by the scenes. The boys picked us up at a bouldery bay which we gained by walking down from the larger of the two churches on the island. From there it was a gentle broad reach across to Island. Lunch on that day was Salad de Panarea, and a dish of eggplant with vinegar which gave it an interesting flavour.
We anchored under an ancient fort the precepts of which were back it, creating a medieval atmosphere. We enjoyed a Roberto masterpiece of stuff green pepper–peperoni ripieni con tonno,capperi,pomodoro,cupolla sale e pepe ,e involutini di controfiletto con mollica di pane ,prociutto cotto e scamorza affumicata su letto di cupolla croccante , and veal ptarmigan his style and woke the next morning to the rock and roll created by the fast ferries which simply drive too fast too close.
Lipari. The boys had a late night, so we made our move ashore mid morning joining the bustling crowds of tourist from the mainland. Lipari is known for fishing, and in past times calamari and swordfish. However, current times see the seas severely depleted. Many boats are “fishing” using fine mesh nets, dragged across the bottom. I suppose I cannot be too critical of the practice as our prawn trawlers in Australia use similar destructive techniques. Showing the boys my photos from Raja Ampat they were amazed at the density of fish populations, also depleted by our standards.
We are having a fish soup for dinner tonight and I hate to think of the cost. We trawled through the town taking photos on the way; stopping to purchase delicious strawberries and apples; then took a break from all that touring at Suppa, a recommended traditional bakery. Chef ordered a traditional lemon sponge cake, which I came to enjoy with my hot chocolate, this thickest hot chocolate I have ever had; almost a life changing experience. Lipari is also well-known for its granite, a type of iced drink, usually served as an “intercourse” at gourmet restaurants.
It was interesting to visit the cathedral and understand the complex and tumultuous history of this area, with frequent invasions from Turkey, Africa, and Spain. A King Roger II even left his mark on the place; there may be a place here from King Roger III!
Strolling along the water front we encountered a traditional Sparkman and Stephens yawl which we had seen out sailing a few days prior. This gaff rigged yawl was launched in 1962 at the shipyard of Bent and Plymyard or Saltsjo baden, Sweden. She was donated tot he Italian Navy by a lawyer and is 74 ft overall, draws 10 1/2 ft with beam of 16 1/2 ft. The hull is vanished above the waterline. For sailing there are no electric or hydraulic winches; he sports on her spinnaker a coat of arms of the Maritime Republic. In the `1963 Fastnet race she crossed the line ahead of other more seasoned yachts or the day, Stormvogel and Bolero.
Sadly our cruise was coming to its conclusion, with a passage across the Eolian Sea to Milazzo.