It’s been a while since the last update: We’ve had many pleasant distractions, and every time there was the opportunity to do some blogging, something else enticed me away. But, as our time here in Italy draws to a close (already!), it’s time to record them before they fall out of my memory! Read on, and apologies for the silent spell!
Slow travel time! In the wake of Tim, Jen and Annie we spent several extra days in Sorrento, adjusting to being without our new-found family, and doing some software development. A little culture-shock, interestingly.
Having eventually judged it time to get on with things, we unplugged and headed out into the unknown to the south. Our culture shock intensified driving through the rubbish-strewn ghettos of the urban sprawl near Naples, and we were greatly relieved to find the open road later in the day.
Over the next couple of days, we drove south down the coast, stopping to pick up a second SIM card in Salerno to extend our Internet quota and getting into some tight squeezes in Nettle in the process — not helped by some rampant double- and triple-parking.
We had some quite pleasant wild-camps in the area around the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park; parked above the seaside town of Marina di Casal Velino, high above the sea in a lay-by of a cliffside road near San Giorgio, and by the beach in eerily silent Lenzi, closed down for low season. Hoping to find somewhere to settle for a little while, we took a drive through the mountains of the National Park, quite pleasant and green, but not quite what we were looking for and devoid of any worthy caravan parks that we could find. Some beautiful towns perched atop hills, though.
Onwards we drove, down through increasingly decrepit towns, our moods and comfort levels declining accordingly! All changed for a moment when we drove through a delightful seaside town, Scilla, three- and four-storey houses with orange-tiled roofs clustered around a promontory with a castle perched atop it. Charmed, we tried to find a place to park for the evening and explore the town, but were met with no-camper signs everywhere, and reluctantly moved on.
Eventually we made it to Villa San Giovanni, with Sicily visible just a short hop over the channel. We took a evening stroll along the dirty foreshore, past many groups of men gathered around chatting, and spotted a diver coming out of the water, two or three octopus dangling from his belt! We spent a night parked by the sea, beautiful clear blue water with a white sandy beach completely littered with all kinds of rubbish.
In the morning, we took the ferry over, and arrived in Messina, Sicily, and drove our way along the picturesque winding inland road through forests of eucalyptus. What a familiar sight!
Some minor drama after an unwise turn suggested by Nigel, involving getting ourselves nearly wedged down a tiny little road in a tiny little town and having to reverse for a considerable distance with cars waiting on us. Tense, sweat-inducing stuff.
We made it out alive and unscathed, and drove through the cluttered yet not unattractive suburbs to Milazzo. Milazzo is a quite nice town which is one of the launching points to get to the Aolian Islands, one of which is Stromboli, a tiny island almost entirely occupied by a ‘continuously erupting’ volcano. We spent a few nights at a caravan park on the peninsula to the north-west of the town: We met a lovely Swiss family, Pascal, Vivienne and their children, and shared some swiss beer (and a little vegemite!); saw some amazing lightning and ate some incredible pesci spada (swordfish) from the caravan park’s restaurant, of all places.
With the Stromboli boat tour booked out, we decided to press on, postponing it for our return journey. A quite pleasant drive along the coast, cut short by a road closure, presumably because the road fell into the ocean. We backtracked and found a beautiful wildcamp in an area off the road near San Giorgio-Magaro, looking out over the Tyrrhenian Sea. A wild night of wind, rain and electrical shenanigans, which we somehow survived without being blown off the cliff — as we found out later, however, not everyone was as fortunate: The nearby city of Messina was victim to flooding and landslides that killed at least 20.
We pressed on — or rather, backwards, until we got on the motorway to continue our journey. Once on the motorway, the kilometers passed quickly, and we took the exit to Cefalu, a stunning ancient seaside town, wedged between a tall rocky outcrop and the ocean, with a maze of picturesque little cobbled streets weaving through. We found a park on the promontory, and went for a sunset-lit walk along the beach and through the town. The following day, my birthday, we walked through the town some more — the little alleys smelt pleasantly of the clean laundry hanging from every balcony, drying in the sun, while scooters scooted past us nimbly. We had an astonishingly expensive but pleasant meal of pesci spada and some local fish, in an outdoor restaurant in a piazza by the ancient church (in lieu of the cute little restaurant we saw the night before, with tables wedged into a tiny little alley: Which we were unable to find again), then went for a long swim in the warm waves beside Nettle.
The following day we hopped back on the motorway and headed towards the city of Palermo. The motorway became a highway and skirted the city. In the process, we got a taste of the somewhat chaotic traffic: Intersections where basically anything goes, and one just enters and hopes for the best; formula-one driver wannabes ducking and weaving, and general impatience and pushiness. It’s hard to imagine how it all makes for a sensible system: The resulting need for extreme caution and alertness for neighbouring drivers’ foolishness makes for slow going. Surely a couple of extra traffic lights and a general adherence to a semblance of road rules would lead to smoother progress! Still: It all works, somehow.
Slightly west of Palermo, we began another caravan park search, hoping to find somewhere to be a base while we explored the city. The first caravan park lay on the far side of a little town on the coast, and Nigel decided on a particular route that very nearly led to disaster: We found ourselves heading down the tiniest road we’d seen yet, lined on each side by parked cars, and with no possibility of reversing. We inched along, and found ourselves at a tight T-intersection with another tiny road, parked cars everywhere. We both leaned out the window to check the distance between the cars on either side: Katherine had one or two centimetres, while I had quite literally a millimetre or less. The car’s mirror was touching the side of Nettle as we crept by, not hard enough to scrape or cause any marks, but definitely making contact. Thankfully there were two pot-plants on the far side of the intersection where there were no cars, and a kind gentleman who noticed our plight aided us by directing me forward around the corner. If we’d had a millimetre’s less room, I don’t know what we would have done. Helicopter lift, perhaps?
With one more false start, requiring some cautious reversing out while cars behind hopped out of the way, I decided enough was enough, pulled over, and scouted ahead on foot, to try to find a way through. Once I found the caravan park on foot, I realised it was horrendous and it was all for naught; we continued onwards! One or two unpleasant and expensive caravan parks later, we stopped on a road by the beach instead. Two friendly French motorhomers drove by and parked in a field beside the road, and invited us up. We talked for a while; He told us they were originally from Paris, but now lived in Brittany where they ran a B&B. They had travelled in Croatia, where we were planning to spend the winter, and he recounted the extreme motorhome-unfriendliness there: “No camper” signs everywhere, and insanely expensive caravan parks. At one place, he told us, it was actually cheaper to stay an a nearby B&B, parking their camper outside, rather than stay in the caravan park. Damn! He also told us they’d come from Erice, a town he pointed out on my iPhone’s map, and described a wild-camp there. So, we moved beside them and settled in for the night.
The following day we moved into Palermo proper, to a car park that also catered for campers, with electrical hook-up and a bathroom. Mercifully wide roads and a nice and uneventful journey in.
We got directions from a helpful woman at the car park who spoke a little English, and wandered around Palermo, a very interesting but very dirty town. We found ourselves at one point in what appeared to be the student quarter, with signs in Arabic and an even an Indian restaurant. There were street corners piled to shoulder-height with rotting garbage, and dirty water running across the street — colourful indeed.
We found a little antiques market, wandered some more, and visited the Capuchin Crypt, of the Capuchin Order who had the somewhat macabre tradition of embalming their dead, dressing them up and suspending them from hooks in these catacombs. Creepy stuff: Hundreds of bodies in varying states of decomposition leering down from the walls. It was cold, the air dry but unscented, and very quiet, tourists like us walking around the dusty passageways in silence. This was no sterile tourist display: The bodies were out in the air, hanging just an arms length away from the walkways. Some had skin still hanging off their grinning skulls; the less-decayed ones were the most creepy, as one could still make out a semblance of a lopsided face. Yeech.
Footsore, we started heading back in the direction of a main road where we might find a bus — then, in short order my iPhone’s battery ran out, then Nigel’s battery died, leaving us without any form of map or navigation. It was no good asking anyone else — we tried once, and got a long, entirely unintelligible answer; thanks anyway! By some good guesswork and a bit of luck, we found our way to the bus depot, a fairly safe bet, then found the right bus and made our way back to Nettle.
We spent a few extra days in Nettle at the caravan park while I recovered from a short spell under the weather (I have been quite the sickly one lately!), then anxious to leave the grotty city, we headed onwards.
We drove along the road high above the sea, past the insanely dense sprawl of Castellemare del Golfo, towards Scopello, a promising destination that Katherine had discovered.
We didn’t quite make it, instead finding a delightful ‘parcheggio’ (parking area), grassy and dotted with olive trees, overlooking the sweep of a bay, in a little town called Casa de Franchis on the map. Beautiful mountains made a picturesque backdrop behind our little olive grove, and — jackpot — there was strong 3G reception and electricity hookup points, just what we need to remain for a while. That, with an amazing €2 per night fee had us hopping up and down with excitement!
Unfortunately, our dreams of our new home fell apart a little when we realised the electricity was turned off for low-season, and there wasn’t a soul around who we could talk to about it, although I tried, carrying around a handwritten copy of a Google translation asking after the owner.
We stayed a couple of nights until the power shortage forced us to move on; all wasn’t lost, though, as we found a ‘sosta camper’ just outside of Scopello, with electricity, water, a dump point and a pleasant view, for €10 per day. Not quite our pretty olive grove, but it’d do: We stayed there for a week and I got some good software development done, while Katherine got stuck into some art. For both of us, it was one of the best weeks of our trip yet! The sheer joy of creativity certainly rivals our enjoyment of visiting exciting new places: Combining the two is just brilliant.
So, we spent our days focusing on our respective passions, enjoying the view out the window every now and then, of the startlingly multi-hued blue of the ocean, and the pretty coastline and mountains inland. The sea had amazing patterns of dark and light over it, which would change throughout the day — cloud shadows, we realised later in a ‘duh!’ moment — and patches of green/yellow caused by silt would creep in from the beach when it rained. Beautiful.
The ‘sosta’ owner was quite friendly, and kept popping around to make sure we were happy. The woman at the local grocery store was also very friendly, and we had a little conversation with a lot of hand-waving while a short rainstorm came and went, during which she insisted that we wait it out in her shop. On the walk back to Nettle, in the drizzling rain, another kind soul offered us a ride back!
Scopello itself was surprisingly empty and small — low season, probably! — and after a week we decided it was time for a change of scene — and time to find a place to buy groceries at less than the tourist prices we found in Scopello!
We spent one last wistful night in our ‘olive grove’ in Casa de Franchis, and headed onwards.