I’m sitting here looking out over the Tyrrhenian Sea from our hotel room close to the most northern part of the island of Sicily. The view is charming, a small working fishing marina surrounded by a small working village with a few elegant villas stretching along it’s northern shores. We’ll move into one of the villa’s tomorrow to receive friends, share companionship, foods, wines and celebrate Ursula’s Birthday. It could suck, but it really does not. Excellent planning, patience, and a little imagination go a long way. But, I’m way ahead of myself in this narrative. In the last posting, we were readying ourselves to venture out and away from the curious village of the Sassi.
22 November – It was another beautifully bright and warm day, which is nice. We’ve witnessed the wicked rain, thunder, and lightning storms that infest the land in this season. They are not pleasant! In fair weather, we curled our way down from the mountains to the coast between the coasts; in-between the heel and toe of the Italian Boot. Traversing from east to west we drove entirely across the lower peninsula, in one morning. Over the previous three days we dipped our toes in three Seas, the Adriatic, the Ionian and Tyrrhenian. We traveled through three districts with the exotic-sounding names Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, all of which are witness to bygone humanity and history of the ages. Even before the Greek migrations and colonizing of the Italian coast during and after the Peloponnesian wars, this area was a seat of humanity. Differing tribes scratched out a living in the soil, the seas, and pirated their way to sufficiency. Coming from a society that proudly claims a 400-year history, it befuddles the mind to think that local history predates A.D. by centuries, if not a thousand years.
Along the way, one surveys Citadelle villages on top of steep hills and castles towns on opposing ridges, all overlooking the vast expansive sea before. In the broad valleys below, all varieties of sun-drenched fruits and vegetables in vineyards and tangled gardens stream from hill to hill. In the distance, one white peak rose above the other crests. Just this one was covered in snow, a surprise this far south.
Naturally, we stopped at a seaside town (Borgata Marina) to dip our fingers into the Ionian Sea and have a cappuccino and eat a cornet. One must do what one must do! I think it might be sinful not to enjoy the coffee when one can…and a little ‘Dolce’ or sweetness to go along with it can’t hurt (chocolate-filled croissant)
A leisurely four hours later, we sauntered off the Auto Strada and drifted our way through mountain valleys and local roads to arrive in the beach resort town of Tropea. Of surprise along the way was just how fantastic were most of the roads. Clearly, there’s been an infusion of funds in the south to construct a few modern Auto Strada, State Strada, and Provincial Strada. The only problem with this is idiot, crazy drivers feel more embolden to pass you on blind curves because it’s now easier to do so (just not safer) (or perhaps this is a sign that I’m turning into an Old Curmudgeon!)
Much of the old town of Tropea lay astride a cliff overlooking white sand and pebbled beaches below. The water is calm and azure while the sun beats down upon the changing leaves and the hanging oranges. I guess winter arrives later in the south. Tropea is a small village and quite picturesque. But after dozens of charming towns and villages, it takes about 45 minutes to explore and photograph, which we did on day one. So, on our non-travel day, it was a beech day, at least for Ursula. While Ursula caught up on ‘catching rays,’ communing with nature and picking up sea-glass along the beach, I camped out on our hotel room deck overlooking the beach and the Mediterranean Sea. I figured it was about time to catch up on some journaling, some blogging, and updating the Bellissima Italia Gallery (much like today’s effort several days later). It was too beautiful a day with the sun and surf to be indoors anywhere. This is one of those experiences that travel is all about, hanging out on a deck overlooking a sunny beach in Southern Italy.
Tropea is a well know, off the beaten path beach town in the offseason. Much of it was closed, and when you consider everything is closed from 1300-1700, the place feels absolutely abandoned. One full day on the ground, shouldered by half-day travel days was enough. The seafood was delightful, and the restaurant company interesting, but it was time to leave the Boot and get to the Island of Sicily.
23 November – Departing Tropea, we worked our way up and along back roads and eventually to Villa San Giovani for the Ferry across the Strait of Messina. The drive was impressive. At first, we climbed and climbed these winding, potholed back roads to the top of a shelf along a mountain enshrouded with farmers’ fields and little villages every few miles. Finally, we worked our way onto a more functional back provincial road to get us to the Ferry by noon. No issues getting to the town, but finding our way to the ferry embarkation point was problematic. We never work well together while driving in cars, and this experience of getting lost mere blocks from the embarkation point in a bustling, congested city was probably another high or low point of our trip. We just found it odd that the access to a major ferry crossing came through what looked like a back ally. Either way, we made on the Ferry, and both of us survived the other’s dagger looks and not so comely comments. Life on the road isn’t always sweetness!
The boat ride over was short and very efficient, as was the disembarkation. Welcome to Sicily! The coast-line of Messina is just dotted with high-rise apartments all over the rocky shores. As the Strait of Messina is narrow, one can easily see the other side; the night lights must be alluring.
The ride to Taormina was reasonably uneventful (very quiet), and we finally found the parking garage with only minor outbursts of hate and discontent. A short walk up the mountain and into the Duomo Piazza to find the B&B. Ursula landed us a spot right on the corner of the Piazza with two small balconies overlooking the Duomo and the ocean a kilometer away and a 1,000 feet down. It’s a lovely old home converted into a B&B with a charming private outdoor stone and cactus courtyard entrance. The place is a bit dated, and the amenities are few. Still, the location is exceptional, and the bed comfortable enough. The setting was perfect; it was beautifully sublime and calming. Just the environment needed to help reset the mood from the natural tensions that flourish from 53 days together locked at the hip.
It was a successful venture off the Boot of Italy and onto the island. With only two weeks remaining, there’s still too much to see, do and experience.