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From Greece to Italy – another culture change

September 2, 2014

It seems a long time ago that we were in Corfu, but looking back at the last installment of our adventures it is only a month. In my diary I had made a note to say that we finally experimented with heaving to (stopping the boat from moving while in wind in the middle of the sea) with some success while in Amvrakikos bay. It worked better one way than the other – the mainsail stays up (although it would have been better reefed I think) and the genoa is also up, but the boat is put into a position where the genoa is reversed. The rudder is turned fully the opposite way to keep the wind on the wrong side of the genoa, and hey presto, the boat stops – more or less. It fails when the wind manages to get round the “right” side of the genoa and the boat heads off. However I can’t remember which side worked best now!

I loved the name of this boat! Tied up in Gouvia marina

I loved the name of this boat! Tied up in Gouvia marina

Finally there were suitable conditions for leaving Gouvia and so after a flurry of laundry, last minute shopping, we set sail round the corner to Imerolia bay on the north side of Corfu. Interesting purchases this time were a new table top vice as the jaws of the one Brian had brought from home wobbled and didn’t grip very well. Also a length of new leather to cover the wheel as our existing cover is really very tatty. It was carefully measured to make sure it was the right width and there are pre-drilled holes to take the thread that fastens it on. This will be a fairly long job for winter I think.
Looking at the log, we have only made six trips since Gouvia marina as it was time for our summer break, leaving the boat and hiring a car to explore the hinterland.
Back to the beginning though. There was a huge thunderstorm with torrential rain the night we anchored in Imerolia bay. Fortunately it was dark by the time it started pouring in through the hatches left open a crack for some ventilation. I stripped and chased round to the front of the boat to take off the mosquito netting – necessary to be able to close the hatches. By the time I got back into the cockpit I had had a pleasant but involuntary full wash! Fortunately there was no wind and the lightning gave me plenty of light to see by. We had taken the dinghy to the beach and cleaned its bottom that afternoon. The few inches of water accumulated during the storm needed emptying out again the next morning.
The first few days of August were spent in Ammos bay on Othoni island – the last stop before Italy.

The outlook from the beach cafe in Ormos Ammos, Othoni

The outlook from the beach cafe in Ormos Ammos, Othoni

It was such a nice place (although rather crowded with yachts, many of them Italian) that we spent three nights there. There was a wifi signal that could be accessed from the boat, a nice bar for our evening beer, lovely sunshine and calm seas so swimming off the boat was a pleasure.

Ladies with hats bathing - typically Greek

Ladies with hats bathing – typically Greek

That was the last time I have been in the sea.
The pilot book warns of the ferry coming into the harbour, past all the anchored yachts, at great speed.

We thought that with the new harbour built just round the corner that it would go there instead, but no, it carries on using the tatty quay in the main bay, so some space needs to be left for it to get through. It arrived one evening, and stayed the night. I woke at about 3am as a large catamaran anchored next to us – right in the middle of the ferry “channel”. Sure enough, the next morning the ferry wanted to leave and started hooting at 8.30 to get the catamaran to move. But they were fast asleep. I shouted too and waved at a tousled head I could see emerging but it retreated again. Finally Brian dug out our air horn and hooted at them – that worked! A sleepy crew emerged, we gestured at the ferry, they finally got the message, weighed anchor and disappeared heading west – poor things. The ferry must be used to this, as it didn’t set off until 9am anyway.

The ferry approaches - it looked bigger in real life!

The ferry approaches – it looked bigger in real life!

We had the same issue the next morning as we set off at dawn – our anchor had been underneath the yacht in front of us.

Fortunately though the wind blew the right way and we extricated ourselves without too much trouble – though the other skipper had heard us and was on deck to make sure!

Pretty crab

Pretty crab

After the first few very bumpy miles, the trip went smoothly with a bit of help from the sails, but not much. The first port of call was Otranto – a phone call to the number in the pilot book let us book a place and eventually we found a man on the quay who took our lines. Italy at last! And we gained an hour too, so had time to wander around town.

Otranto harbour - unusual to have beaches and bathers inside the harbour

Otranto harbour – unusual to have beaches and bathers inside the harbour

Amazingly, as it was Sunday, there was a phone shop open in the tourist area near the castle. We negotiated a new sim card for the phone (which is now dubbed “Italian” and a micro sim card for Brian’s Android tablet with 7Gb allowance for 2 months. Both are Vodaphone and seem to work well so far.

The castle in Otranto - Italy at last

The castle in Otranto – Italy at last

The forecast showed NE winds getting worse for the next few days so we decided to head for Brindisi straight away. It was a hard slog the next day – tacking against 20-25 knots of wind to try to get some benefit from the wind but it took a long uncomfortable 11 hours to go 50 miles. It was wonderful to get into the calm lee of the huge harbour wall at Brindisi – big sigh of relief.

Home for 3 weeks - Brindisi marina

Home for 3 weeks – Brindisi marina

We headed for the easiest mooring – the main marina to the north of Brindisi town, tied up and relaxed. There are apparently other options for mooring in the main harbour closer to town, but when the marina office offered a good discount for a month’s berth, and we had found the facilities to be excellent, we took the easy option to stay there. Valentina in the office also arranged for us to hire a car at a reasonable rate for 3 weeks which we collected after our day’s rest.

Waves crashing against the rocks just north of Brindisi marina

Waves crashing against the rocks just north of Brindisi marina

That morning we took the bus into Brindisi from the marina – but everything seemed to be closed. There were a few monumental buildings to look at, a Roman column marking the end of the Appian way, and also a monumental set of steps with some inscription to Mussolini. The tourist office had some helpful leaflets about Puglia (this region), and then we hunted for a café before returning to the bus. Amazingly there was only one on the whole quayside – not like Greece where seafronts are lined with tavernas and coffee shops. We found this in many other places too. And Italians have not heard of frappe either – we are mortified to have to drink dinky little cups of cappucino at inflated prices.

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The car hire people showed us where to find a supermarket that sells roadmaps, so we went there straight away and found a huge shopping mall. Having found the map, some time was spent perusing the shelves and finding all the lovely meats and cheeses we had been missing the last year or so! The next day we found another huge mall on the same road – so spent morning and afternoon investigating what might be available at both of them! Brian found another small vice which meant that he could dismantle and let the old one go – it was a wrench (sorry) but having put it to one side of the waste bins, it disappeared hopefully to a new home.
Having got the roadmap and looked up places to go in the Rough Guide I booked a room in the only town in the Gargano area that had any reasonably priced accommodation left. August is Italian holiday month and everywhere was packed.

Packed beaches

Packed beaches

We ended up in San Giovanni Rotondo – a centre of pilgrimage based on a priest who is now a saint, and only died in 1968. A massive audience centre has been built there (architect Renzo Piano) which we purposefully didn’t go to see! However it is central to the Gargano area and the hotel was very pleasant.
First we explored the north coast lagoons – not much in the way of birdlife but we did see a woodchat shrike and purple herons. On the way back through the cool of the Umbra forest a short stop and walk down a leafy track to a small bridge revealed a spotted woodpecker and loads of nuthatches – which we then found in every other forest area.
The following day we found another forest area and managed about 20km in the lovely cool under massive beech trees.

Beech forests - cool and green

Beech forests – cool and green

Once you got away from the picnic areas there were very few people around and it was beautifully quiet. We enjoyed it so much we booked another day at the hotel, then went to the south coast, checked out the new marina at Manfredonia (very new and very nice with finger pontoons at each berth!),

Brand new marina in Manfredonia

Brand new marina in Manfredonia

drove up to Vieste for a quick look at the castle,

Castle at Vieste

Castle at Vieste

lunch (pizza) and our first Italian icecreams (yum) and then the coastal route to Peschici to look at the famous trabuchet fishing constructions. There we spied a lesser kestrel hunting above the cliffs.


Every possible access to the sea was packed with holiday makers, cars lining the roads and people draped over rocks wherever they could find a spot. The beaches were lined with umbrellas and loungers, likewise packed. It reminded me of Margate in the summer!

More packed beaches

More packed beaches

Time to return to Alixora and a detour to look at Castel di Monte – built by Frederick II who was intrigued by the number 8. It must feature in a Dan Brown book I am sure. It must have been an impressive place when in use – it is still impressive from the outside but rather barren inside.


As we returned to Brindisi through Murgia national park (mostly agricultural land) we stopped and watched hundreds of lesser kestrels perched on electricity wires and poles, taking off and hunting – amazing. Every pole had four or five birds – all perched on the shady side!

More lesser kestrels

More lesser kestrels

The fields were full of bush tomato plants being harvested by itinerant workers in many cases. Huge trucks full of boxes of tomatoes headed out towards motorways on the small roads we were using. That said, during that week there was very little commercial traffic on the roads – by the end of August this had changed.
A day’s rest after our adventures, an afternoon cleaning and disinfecting the front water tank, polishing the stainless steel work yet again, a half day investigating the next excursion and booking rooms (again not easy) and we were ready to leave.
During our time on the boat we had been watching a couple of huge dockside constructions that looked like praying mantis unloading huge cargo ships. We couldn’t work out what they were until I hunted on the internet and found the manufacturer. They are specifically coal handling constructions with, as far as we could make out, huge flexible rubber(?) bucket belts that dip into the holds and get the coal out, which is then transported to the power station miles away via a massive set of conveyor belts – but these seem to disappear, probably underground, between the port and the power station. Fascinating. One ship brought coal from Norfolk, Virginia and another from Egypt. It took about 3 days continuous work to unload each ship, a day or two’s rest then another would arrive.

Coal handling machines at work in Brindisi harbour

Coal handling machines at work in Brindisi harbour

Our trip to the Sila national forest park took us through Taranto to the west side of the eponymous gulf. The motorway went through an area covered in red dust, which we later found really is iron dust and the bane of the town which has the worst pollution record in the whole of Europe and high death rates in that area from the dioxins pumped out by the steel works. Shame.
Stopping for lunch by a small cistern on a country road we noticed mottled grey shapes scurrying around the concrete walls. On enquiry, Google informed us they were probably leaf toed Gekkos. That is a first for us – they were very well camouflaged though.

Gekko

Gekko

Lake Arvo was our destination and a hotel – which we found was in a large ski resort complex! Summer activites included horse riding and other sports, but the hotel included an indoor icerink – still operational and a few well clad teenagers staggering around it. We wondered why it was cool – then realised that at 4,000 feet it probably would be, and we had not brought any warm clothes! However by putting on a few layers we managed OK.
It was here that Brian discovered that “porcini” isn’t pork at all – it is cep mushrooms! Very nice though. I had gnocci, but they were a bit too tomatoey, so we swapped. “Pancetta” is bacon, and suino (suey, suey) is pork.
We investigated the huge lake, but as a reservoir it was remarkably sterile although we did spy some great crested grebes. Another excursion into the forested areas revealed more nuthatches and we could hear woodpeckers, but not much else.

I thought these cow collars were extraordinary

I thought these cow collars were extraordinary

The next stop was the Pollino national park, further north. A lovely B&B welcomed us with coffee (yes, small cups) and a shared kitchen which turned out to be a boon. In contrast to Greece and Turkey, breakfasts here are sweet croissants and cake along with coffee (several refills have to be negotiated).

Breakfast outside our room

Breakfast outside our room

On the way we found coppiced beech forests interspersed with high meadows and stopped for a lengthy bird watch. We found rock buntings, buzzards and heard woodpeckers. There were lots of other more common birds – chaffinch, wrens, bluetits etc too.
That evening we joined a French couple who had just arrived (a good opportunity to brush up our French in preparation for Tunisia) at the nearby Agri Tourism restaurant. We shared antipasti (excellent) and then rather fatty lamb. The next day I developed the gripes for some reason and stayed at the B&B drinking tea which I could brew in the kitchen and Brian went off to look at the surrounding hillsides, spotting a red kite – great excitement. We saw more the next day too.
It was so nice there we had wanted to stay another day or two, but the B&B was booked up, so I found a nearby town (Viggianello) with a hotel with rooms available.

The hilltop town of Viggianello

The hilltop town of Viggianello

As we drove up there, the scenery was very dramatic with gorges, deep valleys and high mountains. Older towns were built on the tops of high crags – very pretty. A stop off the main road by a river for our sandwich lunch was interesting and lots of alpine swifts were darting around the bridge and river. However we didn’t see anything else that we could identify – the only possibility was a pipit of some kind.
During our evenings, Brian had found a website with bird sounds so he could distinguish black from green and spotted woodpeckers (no, not really!), and also found the inimitable fluting song of the golden oriole which is supposed to be in these forests.
What should I hear on waking the first morning in Viggianello but the fluting of the golden oriole just outside the window! But as soon as I got to the window it had flown off to a pine tree further away and without my glasses on I just caught a flash of yellow. Brian stayed fast asleep. Needless to say it didn’t reappear the next morning.
The hotel served a set dinner of all four courses, typical Italian fare! Very nice too but far too much to have antipasto, pasto, primo and secondo! Of course we tucked in………

Viggianello

Viggianello

We toured the hillsides, walking up through more forests to the top of a hill where huge aerials and transmitter antennae were placed. However the trees there were covered in thick coats of wild clematis so although it was a pleasant walk in cool shade, there wasn’t much chance of seeing any bird life!
That was the end of our tour of the forests and national parks of Puglia and Calabria, we returned through Taranto and the red dust and had a rest the next day before starting to look at weather forecasts and planning our route for the following week or two. On the way back we passed water melon fields that had been cropped and broken and bad melons were spread over the ground. They stank of rotting fruit, even when they had been ploughed in!
An Australian couple – Ann and John on Ella May introduced themselves one afternoon and came and had a beer with us. We had determined to leave the day after relinquishing the car, so invited Ann to come with us to the hypermarket to stock up. This she did, intending to just buy a few things and then wait for us in a café. Instead, after we had spent an hour in the big hardware store, she was still wandering round the Auchan supermarket with a full trolley. Finding Weetabix and loose tea was the highlight of her day! It was great too to have a conversation with someone else after such a long time – the first since Gouvia.
We had managed to pick up a few “needful things”, including wheels, aluminium rod and tube and black Hammerite to mend our faithful shopping trolley. It has served us so well, and been repaired numerous times in the past five years, having been bought in Barbate while we waited for the right winds to get to Gibraltar. Despite keeping an eye open, the replacement that has four wheels and folds has never been found.
Our last day with the car was spent visiting a small nature reserve near the power station. There was no obvious access to the lagoons on the coast unfortunately, but we did see a lot of kestrels, a couple of buzzards and then identified loads of fan tailed warblers. It is pretty unusual for us to be able to identify little brown jobs, so we were pleased that they were sufficiently kind to sit still long enough for us to pick out all the salient features!

Poor dinghy - poor us

Poor dinghy – poor us

Final work was to clean the dinghy again and get laundry done. The dinghy bottom was covered in a thick layer of coral worm and barnacles. This should have given us pause for thought, but the only pause we made was to straighten our aching backs as we scraped away at it.

Yuck - coral worm and seaweed and barnacles

Yuck – coral worm and seaweed and barnacles

Our plan of leaving on Thursday 28th August became more doubtful as we found more work to do. So we spent another day on tasks suited to our nice calm mooring with free water and electricity. As it was cloudy and cooler it was a good opportunity to empty and clean out the back water tank which occupied half the day, Brian did the magic with the bits for the shopping trolley (although it remains to be painted) and fixed a leak in the top of the front water tank with his new cheap soldering iron bought especially for plastic and the like.
The charted course to our next port of San Foca di Melendugno was 32 miles, so we didn’t have to rush. Which was a good thing as the boat was very sluggish when just on the engine. Thankfully there was enough wind to help along at a very reasonable rate. As we got into the port and circled around Brian felt that all was not well. Even with no appreciable wind in the harbour it was very difficult to get the boat going backwards to the quay in the right direction – or I should say more difficult than usual.
Perhaps all that coral worm on the bottom of the dinghy should have alerted us! I gesticulated to the dock hand and he caught my drift (more or less) and found a young lad (Barti)who would dive and look at our propeller (L’elical of course) early (7.30) in the morning. He was interrupted in the process of hitting the town with two young ladies which should have warned me.
Notwithstanding we hit the town too –a jolly seaside resort – and found a café to have our evening beer. We decided to eat out too – our big pot of pork stew was getting a bit boring already – and had a very good fish dinner.
The next morning, Barti didn’t turn up until well after 8am. I had gone to find him, but his (parent’s) boat was so big my efforts went unrewarded. Brian bravely got in the sea and checked that it was just marine growth and not rope or plastic tangled up just in case he failed to turn up and we had to leave. But he did arrive and got out his diving gear, then found that his tank didn’t have any air in it! So eventually he just free dived and scraped away as much of the crud off the propeller as he could before running out of puff. I meantime shopped for panini for lunch and paid our night’s dues – 61€ extortionate for a small harbour – and gave Barti 20€ for his efforts – a bit mean but I was feeling tight after paying for the night!

Stormy day in Santa Maria di Leuca

Stormy day in Santa Maria di Leuca

We set off at 9.30 and immediately knew that we had improved propulsion! It was a very boring trip on the next leg to Santa Maria di Leuca, on the tip of the heel of Italy. We had determined to stay there a few days as storms were forecast and our next leg was 70 miles to Crotone which is an overnight trip (14 hours minimum, and we didn’t want to be sailing/motoring close to the coast in the dark as there are loads of fishing nets and buoys to avoid).
Unfortunately the harbour in S.M. di Leuca is not very comfortable in any swell, as the waves come in and make everyone including the pontoons swing around and surge up and down. Rather uncomfortable and tricky getting on and off the boat. We spent Monday reminding ourselves where everything is in the town (last visited in 2010). It is much more lively than we had found before with lots of holiday makers still and all the restaurants and shops are open. The marina is full too – I am sure there were far fewer boats here before. It is mainly motorboats of various sizes though, not that many sailing yachts.
Monday night as predicted, a massive thunderstorm gathered – just as we were having dinner – and it bucketed down with rain and blew hard. I risked putting my head into the cockpit to look at the wind gauge, and saw it register 53 knots!
After a while it calmed down and after showers the next morning the sun reappeared. We went to our favourite café and had pizza and icecreams for lunch for a nice change.

Now the sun comes out!

Now the sun comes out!

If you have been following our adventures you may remember that I noted the strange architecture of the town last time! Someone must have decided to build a series of huge villas in two rows up the hill from the seafront, in various neo-classical styles. So behind the villa with corinthian columns and a dome with cupola, there is the Addams family gothic pile. A chinese style villa is next to that, and back on the seafront a quasi arabic/moorish mansion has a prime position. Another more arabic style villa is further up the hill. There are one or two modern futuristic architectural versions too. Very weird. Most are in urgent need of repair or sprucing up, although some do seem to be occupied – possibly split into separate apartments.
And of course there are Mussolini’s steps up to the lighthouse.

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From → Greece, Italy, Wildlife

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