Sicily to Sardinia: June 25 2010
Cefalu has been lovely to gaze upon as a town but a bit rolly as an anchorage due to swell. That seems to be Mother Nature's way of telling us to move on. June 11 we rose early and "parked" at the fuel dock waiting for their opening. We gave the phone number on the pump a ring and were promised the arrival of an attendant in 15 minutes. The attendant promptly arrived...in a snappy outfit which led us to believe that he had come directly from the disco. It was 7.30am, after all...tee, hee, hee! We started filling...and the pump ran out of diesel. Yes, that is correct...the pump ran out of diesel. What followed were shuttle runs with jerry cans to the "land" fuel pump in the dinghy...oh...and just for fun the harbor bottom has silted due to river run-off which means Chris had to row the final bit to and from the dock because it was too shallow for the dinghy engine. Our original attendant, snappy dressing Junior, decided he did not want to soil his "disco threads" so he went home to change. We were left with Pops for the jerry can fills. Pops was a nice enough fella but cleanliness was not his highest priority. He sloshed diesel from jerry to jerry thus covering the cans and ultimately our deck, the floor of the dinghy and us in a lovely veneer of diesel. Yikes, are we in Indonesia or Italy?! Three hours later and we were filled up and on our way...time will tell if the pumped diesel was full of gunk since it came from the BOTTOM of the tank.
Our late morning start meant that it would be a push to arrive in Castellammare del Golfo in daylight (70 miles). Fortunately, it was a mellow day of motoring without drama. Phew, we tied up at the local marina just as the sun ducked behind the mountains at 8pm. Thank goodness for these long Mediterranean days. And hey, for once we are right on time for dinner! Our next hop will be to Sardinia but a bit of wind has us in Castellammare del Golfo for a few days. It is located in the northwest corner of Sicily and a convenient spot to do some inland travel. We rented a car for two days and were first off to Segesta (June 13). It is said that Sicily is largely agricultural with only a veneer of tourism. As we drove inland this was made abundantly clear. The rolling hills resembled a patchwork quilt of square farm plots; yellow and green representing grape vines and countless vegetable and fruit crops. Wines in Sicily are delicious but only rarely exported. As a result, ordering carafes of wine at restaurants is both practical and high quality. We generally prefer reds, thus nearly always receiving Nero d'Avola grapes...delicious.
We breezed along pleasant back roads on our way to Segesta. Segesta was an ancient Greek city that was in constant conflict with its neighbors Syracusa and Selinunte...and was gradually abandoned after the Roman conquest. Although never finished, the Temple of Segesta is considered one of the best preserved Greek Temples in Italy (fifth century BC). Additionally, a nearby Theater is perched high on a hill with twenty levels of seats (fourth/third century BC). The Sicilian sun was baking but the scenery was all Greek...perfectly placed structures in a naturally stunning setting. The Greeks certainly have an eye for location.
Cooling down in the air conditioned car was wonderful as we later drove to Erice. As a strategic spot Erice found itself constantly a target for takeover...but placed at the top of a steep mountain invaders had to work hard to conquer it. Today it is a sprawling medieval town oozing with charm from which you can see Tunisia on a clear day. We wandered the carefully designed stone streets peeking into courtyards and admiring the stonework used everywhere. An ice cream break in the shade was a welcome pause in the day. Back to Barefeet and we settled into a sunset pizza (garlic, yellow pepper, feta and pizza cheese...but no sauce). Eating aboard has been our work-around regarding late dining hours in Italy...pleasant and accomplished before we turn into pumpkins.
Palermo was our next point of exploration and approximately 40 minutes east of Castellammare del Golfo. We found the Autostrade and zipped into the big city (June 14). We had read that on Monday mornings most shops were closed so we headed in about Noon. Well, it seems "morning" means until 4pm. Happily, this was not too much trouble for us because we were focusing on churches and piazzas; however, our internet needs at the Vodafone store would have to wait until the end of our day. Palermo is most often described as an exotic city where east meets west...in architecture, food and peoples. The golden age of Palermo occurred under Arab rule followed by Norman rule. The Arab period (starting 831 AD) produced prosperous economic and political developments as well as several "splendid building projects." The Normans followed (in 1072 AD) and further expanded the prosperity of the Arab period by promoting science, culture and the arts...and several "splendid building projects." We were wowed by the unique architecture; however, the grittiness and decay of the city was equally evident. It was a real mix-mash of a place. The Arabic domes and filigreed windows combined with massive proportions of Norman architecture as well as Greek mosaics and over-the-top schmaltz of Baroque. Heck, there was even a Catalan-Gothic two-fer at the Duomo. Our heads spun with the sights and we are sure there has been many an architectural student who simply fainted at the sight of such diversity. We sought refuge from the heat and the city at Trattoria ai Normanni for lunch (25 Piazza della Vittoria, ph 091.6516011). It was a quiet, windowless, tiled room with ancient fountain bowls on an interior wall that must have originally been an exterior wall...where horses were watered? Simple pasta Bolognese was bursting with tomato flavor...and the carafe of wine was again delicious.
We exited Palermo a bit weary from the hubbub and experienced our first rush hour in years. But we have a car...so we kept truckin'...we made a supermarket run and a laundry pick up before handing over the keys...and sinking into a cool cocktail along the sea. Aaahhh. There is still a bit of wind on the forecast so we stayed put in Castellammare del Golfo. We took advantage of the nearby resources...sending mail, electricity and water on the dock, fresh fruit and vegetable market...and laid back restaurants (June 15). Ristorante Pizzeria Antiche Scale was a favorite perched with an ocean view beside Palazzo del Comune (ph 0924.200146). Fresh pasta with tender bits of fish in a tomato sauce...with almonds...very tasty. And the pizzas were perfectly gooey and cheesy.
Good news...Mother Nature gave us a weather window. We tossed the dock lines June 16 headed for the Northeast corner of Sardinia. Our window of good weather looks to be followed by a few days of strong winds (25-30 knots)...good to get while the getting was good. For us it was a mixture of motor sailing and just plain motoring...with varying levels of bouncing sea state. Erin had prepared Luigi's Chicken Casserole that stretched for two nights which gave us a hot dinner each night without hopping around the kitchen juggling pots and bowls and ingredients. Hey, there are dolphins checking us out! No kidding, they were spinning and "walking" on the water with eyes clearly eyeballing us...but then they were gone. The night skies were amazing. Stars were bright beacons upon a black canvas and the milky way was a white swoosh as if painted by a giant paint brush. The 230 mile passage was the usual calculation of estimates; boat speed, wind speed, current and daylight departure/arrival. We tried to squeeze it into a single, one night passage but the numbers just couldn't work. Therefore, we anchored at 8.30am in Porto Ta Di Capecciolo after a two night passage (June 18). The scent of flowers perfumed the air and the landscape was dramatic. Turquoise waters fringed by white sandy beaches and rolling green hills that give way to peaked mountains...dotted periodically with jagged cliffs exploding to the sky. Welcome to Sardinia! Now it's time for some pancakes.
Luigi's Chicken Casserole (Crazy for Casseroles by James Villas): 1 cup flour; 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled; 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled; salt and black pepper to taste; one 3lb chicken, cut into serving pieces; 2 Tablespoons butter; 2 Tablespoons olive oil; 2 medium leeks (white only), washed and chopped; 1 small green pepper, seeded and chopped; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced; one 16 oz can Italian plum tomatoes, undrained, chopped; 2 teaspoons tomato paste; 1/2 teaspoon sugar; 1 bay leaf. 1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 quart casserole and set aside. 2) In a paper or plastic bag, shake together flour, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Add chicken pieces, shake, tapping off excess and set on a plate. 3) In a large, heavy skillet, heat butter and oil over moderate heat until the butter melts. Add chicken, brown on all sides and arrange pieces in bottom of casserole. Add leeks, bell pepper, garlic and mushrooms to the skillet and stir until softened (approx 5 min). Add tomatoes with juices, tomato paste, sugar and bay leaf...stir until well blended. Pour the vegetables and sauce over the chicken, cover and bake until chicken is very tender (approx 1.5 hours).
Italy has been a language vacuum for us and we are constantly stopping ourselves from reverting back to our Greek comfort zone. Body language, charades and wide smiles have largely bridged the gap but we definitely feel a bit handicapped. There is some English scattered here-and-there but French is the more frequent alternative to Italian. Erin is dusting off her French and happy for a little practice before being tossed into the deep end when we reach French soil. Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean (Sicily is the largest) and closer in distance to Africa than to mainland Italy. There is a lot to see; however, the forecasted strong winds did indeed arrive which kept us at anchor in our first Sardinian bay. But how could we be anything but happy with good protection and a lovely beach just a dinghy ride away in the nature preserve area of Cala Brandinghi (June 19). From the start Sardinia has wowed us with its natural beauty and vibrant, sharp colors. Unbelievable.
Continued strong winds and periodic rain have been the lament of all Med cruisers on the morning DragNet (8.30am on USB 6516)...whether in Croatia, mainland Italy, Corsica, Sardinia...all are pinned down. And duvets are again being taken out of lockers. We all anticipate this to be a temporary situation but are eager for summer to return. As for us, we splashed ashore in the dinghy to stretch our legs and wandered into Porto Puntaldia. We had a cappuccino on the terrace and watched the snazzy vacationers enjoying a slow Sunday afternoon (June 20). Back aboard Barefeet with a few more provisions (including Sardinian wine) and we think we have cracked the recipe for marinated tomato pizza from Pizzeria Regina. Ssshhh, don't tell. This was a favorite back in Boston and now we can replicate it on Barefeet. Yippee!
Marinated Tomato Pizza: Spread pizza dough into baking pan lined with olive oil and scattered cornmeal and salt. Set aside. Mix together chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Layer tomato mixture over pizza crust. Top with crumbled ricotta cheese and then grated mozzarella cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F until bubbly (approx 20 minutes).
Winds finally lessened enough so that we could move a quick 15 miles further north (June 22). It was a beautiful motor as we snaked through islands and rocks...especially the magnificent "rock" of Tavolara Island. Sardinia was not a place that either Erin or Chris knew much about but, boy, do we love it! We anchored in Golfo Aranci at the mouth of the bay into Olbia...now perfectly poised for the arrival of Lino and Phyllis on June 25. It was a lazy lunch at Lo Scorfano Allegro where Chris ignored his seafood superstition and all but licked his plate clean of seafood risotto...complete with clams in shells, mussels in shells, shrimp and even tentacles with suction cups (veranda Spiaggia, ph. 333.1376530). The next day we took the train into Olbia just to check the place out and to decide whether we should move the boat there for Lino and Phyllis' arrival (June 23). We had a nice walk around but do not think we need to be there to pick up our friends. Oh but the chandlery near the water was a treasure trove of bits and pieces finally crossed off of our boat shopping list...after months. We will continue exploring Sardinia...followed by Corsica and mainland France...likely near Nice then follow the coast west to Spain.