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French Riviera

We left Genoa headed for the French Riviera, but first we had a couple of stops to make. San Remo used to be a major playground and gambling site for the rich before the meteoric rise in popularity of Monaco only 15 miles to the west. It still has a lot of charm and is still popular with tourists.

The monarchy of Monaco is only 2.2 square kilometers but is home to the highest density of millionaire/billionaires in the world. The city-state was in near financial ruin before the monarch established the Monte-Carlo Casino and soon afterward he abolished income tax with the stipulation that residents could not gamble; a rule still in force today. We toured the city along the route of the Monaco Grand Prix, visited the Monte-Carlo casino, saw the residence of Grace Kelly, and dinned in the harbor amidst beautiful mega-yachts. We enjoyed a drink in the plaza by the casino watching a constant stream of the most exotic cars pass by. Monaco certainly has a magical feeling.

As we entered the French Riviera there was a high wind advisory so we took shelter in Rade de Villefranche, a large bay just east of Nice. Everyone else had the same idea and the bay was packed, including mega-yachts and a very large cruise ship. The first weather front passed in the afternoon and many of the boats dragged and there were fouled anchors and boat collisions throughout the bay. Even the cruise ship dragged. The second front passed during the middle of the night and was worse. Several boats had to jettison their anchors and motor around the crowded bay in the dark with blinding rain. Even we dragged about 100 yards before the anchor re-set. No one slept that night.

Our next stop was Juan Les Pins next to Cannes. We had been unable to refill our propane tanks in Italy and were glad to find that here we could rent tanks with the same connection as the adapter I had made in Tunisia. Then I had to decant from the rented tank into our tank. It was a pain but worth it.

We spent two days anchored at Saint-Tropez, again in a crowded bay. It’s interesting to watch the charter boats come in and drop anchor with little scope and without backing down on it. It’s nightmarish when they are up-wind of you. The town was quaint and totally crowded with tourists.

We spent some time in the beautiful Iles d’Hyeres off the coast of France. But we were getting tired of crowded anchorages and we started looking for a weather window to cross the Golfe du Lion. Our crossing was one of our easiest with equal parts motoring and sailing on calm seas. We made landfall the next day at Roses, Spain.

We are currently in Barcelona, Spain, where we will keep the boat in a marina while we do inland travel and Sandie makes a quick trip back to the States. Then we will head out to the Balearic Islands off Spain.

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Cinque Terre, Paris, and the Alps

We spent two weeks anchored in a protected cove off the charming village of Le Grazie near La Spezia. Much of our time was spent doing boat projects and preparing for our guest Mike and Jan who arrived on the 4th of July. La Grazie is largely unspoiled by foreign tourists, catering mainly to local Italians, and we fell in love with it.

We headed north with our guests along the picturesque Cinque Terre coast with its terraced gardens and small villages that until recently could only be reached by foot or by boat. Our first stop was Monterosso al Mare where the town was holding its festival for “old timers”; we felt right at home. It was a wonderful evening with good food, entertainment, and a comfortable anchorage. But that was soon to change.

Our next stop was at the crowded anchorage in north Sestri Levante. A swell had been building that wrapped around the headland making for a rolly anchorage. We decided to tough it out and spend the night. During the night the wind died and the boat settled into the trough of the waves and we and our guest were nearly thrown from our berths. We left at first light and headed for Rapallo and the Italian Riviera.

The marina at Rapallo was destroyed in a storm last year and is currently being rebuilt so we anchored behind the breakwater at Santa Margharita. We stayed there three nights enjoying the local restaurants, the sights, and a rainy day of bridge. We took the dinghy and had lunch in the renowned village of Portofino that had been isolated for six months when its only road was destroyed in last year’s storm.

Our cruise ended in Genoa with the boat moored in a marina at the heart of the old city. We walked the streets lined with lavish homes from a bygone era and dinned at an authentic Italian restaurant where we were the only tourists and the menus were only in Italian. We were sad the next day when Mike and Jan departed for Spain. We always enjoy their company.

We decided that since the boat was in a safe marina, we should take the opportunity to fly to Paris where we have never been. We arrived the day before Bastille Day and the city was alive with preparations. We walked to the Eiffel Tower where an orchestra and opera singer were rehearsing for the next day’s performance and ascended the Tower as the late afternoon sun cast long shadows across the city.

On Sunday we headed for the Champs-Elysees to watch the Bastille Day Parade, passing through three security checkpoints and being thoroughly searched. The parade included everything in the French military arsenal, including flybys by what seemed like the entire French air force. From there we walked the 2+ miles to the Louvre since most of the streets were closed to traffic for security reasons. The best part of Bastille Day was sitting in the park by the Eiffel Tower listening to opera followed by a very grand display of fireworks. Fortunately, our hotel was within walking distance since the streets were still closed off.

Our last night in Paris we went to the Pigalle (red light district) for dinner and to see Moulin Rouge which was great fun.

During our flight over the Alps we were awed by their beauty. So, we returned to the boat, re-packed our bags with warmer clothes, rented a car and headed north. We drove along Lake Como with its celebrity estates and on into the Alps. We spent a night in Vaduz in the principality of Liechtenstein where our room looked out on the Alps. As we drove into Switzerland and Zurich we left the Alps and the scenery became boring. So, with the help of Google, we headed for the alpine village of Kandersteg where we explored Lake Oeschinensee, the alpine meadow at Klettersteig/Via Ferrata, and once again enjoyed amazing views from our hotel room. This may be our favorite place on earth!

The road ends in Kandersteg and it is necessary to put the car on a train that takes us through the mountain and disembarks at Ferden. From there we continue south and eventually out of the Alps.

We are back at the boat in Genoa preparing to continue west through Italy and into France.

Cinque Terre & the Italian Riviera

 

Paris

 

Bastille Day

 

Drive Through the Alps

 

Kandersteg, Switzerland

Sardinia and Corsica

We left Marina di Stabia on May 30 equipped with our spanking new mainsail and headed to the charming little island of Procida.  Colorful houses clung to the side of the mountain above a small harbor filled with fishing boats and docks stacked with fishing nets.  The views from the overlooking fort were spectacular.  While having lunch at the harbour, Brian caught a pigeon that was tangled in fishing line and set it free.  Procida is just what you’d expect an Italian fishing village to look like.

We made a couple more stops heading north along the mainland coast before making an overnight run to Emerald Coast of Sardinia, catching a tuna along the way.  Back in the 60’s the Aga Khan invested a billion dollars to make this a playground for the rich and famous and it seems to have paid off. The coast is adorned with lavish villas and the marinas and bays are filled with mega-yachts. We anchored next to ‘Dilbar’, the fourth largest yacht in the world at a cost of $800M.  The island has beautiful sand beaches and we were disappointed to learn that dinghies are not allowed on them.  Sardinia was in the midst of a locust outbreak that was devastating inland fields but we only saw a single critter.

We made the short hop across the channel to the French island of Corsica with its white cliffs along the southern coast and alpine mountains in the north.  The winds had filled in from the south and we scooted up the west coast. We were in a gale with only a heavily reefed head sail doing 9 knots while bundled in our jackets when suddenly the temperature jumped to over 100 degrees F; just like someone opened an oven door and just as fast. We latter learned that Corsica was experiencing a heatwave that was affecting weather throughout Europe.  By the next day we were back in our jackets.  Summer is coming late to Europe.

Both Sardinia and Corsica were extremely hazy due to dust storms in the Sahara Desert.  Once again, our boat was covered in dust which turned to mud with the morning dew.  With all the dust covering Europe it’s amazing there is any Sahara left.

We rounded the notoriously windy Cap Corse at the north end of Corsica early one morning in calm conditions then set sail for Elba where we found our friends on Champagne who we had met while wintering in Tunisia.  The first order of business was to continue the “Farkel” tournament that was suspended when we left Monastir.  Unfortunately, the contest finished in a tie and we will have to plan another rendezvous further down the line.

We are working our way north to La Spezia, Italy, where we plan to get some work done before our friends Mike & Jan join us from the States.

Procida and Gaeta

 

Sardinia

 

Corsica

Rome and Tuscany by Land

With our boat safely moored in a marina, we packed our bags and headed for Naples and caught the bullet train to Rome. We arrived at our hotel early enough to stroll through the city visiting Piazza del Popola, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Chiesa di S. Ignazio Loyola, and the Pantheon. There is so much to see just walking the streets of Rome.

The next day we headed for the Vatican and while selecting a tour we experience a torrential down pour. We had come prepared but we still got wet. The Vatican on whole was a little disappointing. The crowds were terrible, especially for the “shoulder season”, and we were continually rushed. The lighting in the Sistine Chapel was subdued in an effort to preserve the frescos and this diminished the impact of Michelangelo’s ceiling. But St. Peter’s Basilica was truly magnificent and Vatican City was very impressive.

The next day we visited the Colosseum and again we were a little underwhelmed. Its size is impressive but there are lesser known colosseums that are better preserved with better access and a lot fewer people. But it is a must see in Rome and we are glad to have seen it.

We visited the Catacombs of San Callisto, the Altar of the Fatherland, the Museo Centrale Del Risorgimento Di Roma, and enjoyed a massage. It rained so hard at one point that the bus we were riding in leaked badly enough that people were using umbrellas inside the bus.

On the fifth day we rented a car and spent six days exploring the Tuscany region to the north. The rain had stopped but the days were mostly cloudy. So much for the “Tuscan sun”. But it was still beautiful and much more relaxing than Rome. We visited the gardens at Villa Lante, the hill-top town of Orvieto, the Duomo in Siena, Pisa with its leaning tower, and the walled city of Lucca. We loved Florence with its museums and art galleries, and were particularly impressed seeing Michelangelo’s “David” in the flesh (so-to-speak).

After sating ourselves on Renaissance art and cathedrals we headed back to the boat with an overnight stop in Foligno where we confirmed that all medieval towns start to look alike. Road trips are fun but it’s always nice to get back to the boat. We are awaiting the delivery of our new mainsail and then we will head north along the Italian west coast.

Rome

 

Vatican

 

Tuscany

 

Siena & Pisa

 

Florence

 

 

 

Back to Italy

We left Malta with light winds and motored most of the way to Siracusa, Sicily, where we had visited last year. We anchored in the bay and endured three days of a Sahara sand storm that completely covered Italy, Greece, and us in a fine gritty sand. The boat and rigging were a mess and we were continually washing the boat and solar panels. The cars in town had to use windshield wipers to see.

Friend  Natalia introduced Sandie to the clothing store Antica Santoria and the art of binge shopping. After three days of shopping Sandie spent two days finding room on the boat for her purchases. But she looks nice. The rest of our time was spent at the archeological museum and eating incredible paninis.

We were ready to leave Siracusa when someone stole our outboard motor propeller and fuel tank; fortunately, the dinghy was locked. It took several days to replace them before we could head north.

We anchored one night at Naxos at the base of Mount Etna with a beautiful view of Taormina. This is a very touristy area and it was obvious that tourist season was beginning. Etna blew a bit of smoke as we were departed for the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily.

The Aeolian Islands are volcanic with Stromboli being the most active and famous. High winds were predicted so we chose Isola Lipari to wait out the weather. We spent two days in a very rolly anchorage before the weather front passed and we could continue exploring. We anchored off Lipari town under the castle and visited the charming village with its walking streets and marked up prices; another sign that we were in tourist season although we had yet to see warm weather.

We visited Isola Volcano with its steaming caldera and spent a night in a scenic anchorage on Isola Panarea before heading to Stromboli. This volcano is continually active and is noted as the oldest lighthouse in the world because ancient mariners used its fiery glow as a navigation beacon. We anchored off the village and planned to leave for the mainland at 4:00 AM, first passing the NW face of the volcano to witness the legendary fireworks. But Stromboli had started spewing out a large cloud of smoke the night before which obscured the view. Disappointed, we continued on to mainland Italy.

We worked our way up the coast to Salerno, “Gateway to the Amalfi Coast”. We had driven this coast last year but now we had a chance to see it from the water as we leisurely sailed along. It is impressive by both land and sea with its villages clinging to the steep rocky cliffs. We continued on to the Isle of Capri and spent an uncomfortable rolly night under the sheer cliffs.

We were having trouble with our mainsail and felt that it was time to replace it. We checked into the Marina di Stabia south of Naples and arranged to have our mainsail shipped to a sail loft in Palermo where they are making us a new one. We have a couple of weeks to burn with the boat moored safely in a marina, so tomorrow we head to Rome by train. We will spend a few days there before renting a car and exploring Tuscany, Florence, Pisa,… Hope the weather improves!

Siracusa

 

Aeolian Islands

 

Almafi Coast and Capri

Goodbye Africa, Hello Malta

We finally received our Lifeline batteries from the States and installed them in the boat, the entire exercise lasting 5 months! A few days prep on the boat and we were ready to continue our cruise of the Med. All we needed was a short weather window to Malta. Weather predictions showed that April 8 was the perfect time. But we awoke to 25-30 kt winds and had to wait until afternoon before the winds slowed to the teens. We hastily said our goodbyes to our friends in Monastir and set sail for Malta amongst a pod of dolphins. Two hours later we were becalmed.

We arrived at Gozo Island at sunset the following day and anchored in the lee of a huge rock. While anchoring, the setting sun shown through a large hole in the rock. A beautiful sight but all hands were too busy anchoring to take a picture. The next morning we motored to the island of Malta and checked into the Msida Marina next to the old city of Valletta.

First on the agenda was to get tickets to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, the most highly prized tourist attraction in Malta. We learned that they were sold out for two months, but that it might be possible to purchase tickets the day before. The trick is to get in line before the sun comes up and wait and hope. Brian managed to be second in line and scored two tickets.

The Hypogeum is a vast underground three-tiered necropolis dating back to 3,600 BC that was carved out of living rock during the Neolithic period. This prehistoric culture had an amazing understanding of acoustics, engineering, and astronomy. Yet, they vanished long before the first explorers arrived here during the Bronze Age and the catacombs went undiscovered until the twentieth century. The tours are limited to 10 visitors per hour so tickets are hard to get but worth the effort. Afterwards we visited the nearby Tarxien Temples.

We spent two days walking the streets of the fortress city of Valletta and visiting the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the St. Elmo War Museum, the National Museum of Archaeology, the Knights of the Hospitallers, and more. We spent another two days on the Hop-On Hop-Off buses visiting sites across Malta including the ancient capital Mdina and learning about the Knights of Malta and their bloody history.

We have enjoyed Malta but it’s time to move on. A weather window is opening tomorrow and we will be headed north to Sicily and a re-visit of Siracusa.

Getting to Malta

 

City of Valletta

 

St. John’s Cathedral & the old capital of Mdina

 

 

Touring Tunisia with Jenn

We have settled into a routine at Cap Monastir Marina and have made lots of new cruising friends that are wintering here. We have Sunday barbecues, game nights, and rotating dinners; sounds like an old folks home. The weather has turned cold and we often have high winds that deposit Sahara sands on the boats.

This is our first year that we haven’t traveled back to the States for Christmas, but we were fortunate to have our daughter Jenn join us for the holidays. We rented a car for two weeks and toured much of Tunisia from north to south. In Tunis we visited the ancient ruins of Carthage, the Bardo Museum, and the medina (market) with its labyrinth of narrow corridors lined with shops. We stopped in Souse to see the medina (women like markets!) and the Archeology Museum.

We returned to the marina where the ladies attended a cooking class that culminated in a lavish Christmas dinner with fellow cruisers. Then we were off to El Jem and one of the largest and best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. The following day we went to the island of Djerba and the village of Erriadh that was popularized in 2014 with Djerbahood, a street art event where artist from all over the world painted 250 murals throughout the city.

The next day we headed for Tataouine to visit ancient Berber villages built on mesa tops. We were definitely out of tourist season as we were the only people there. It was like being in a children’s playground with compact dwellings stacked on one another with tiny doors. The air was exceptionally clear and the views were fantastic.

We later visited a present-day Berber village built adjacent to the ruins of an ancient city perched along a ridgeline. This is a popular tourist stop and we did have to share the experience with half-a-dozen tourist buses. From the village we could look across the valley to oases along a dry river bed and a camel trail that zigzagged up into the mountains on its way to the Sahara Desert.

Our next stop was Douz, gateway to the Sahara Desert. Google Maps, possibly sensing our disesteem with tourist crowds, routed us to a remote area with large dunes and palm trees. We knew we had arrived when our car got stuck in the sand and the women had to push. We were surprisingly impressed by the sight of the world’s largest hot desert with its powdery sand. The desert, however, was not hot and we awoke the next morning to 4-degree C temperatures and the car’s alarm system warning about icy roads.

We stopped in Kairouan and visited the medina known for its carpets and the Grand Mosque.  Then it was a couple of days of rest back at the boat before Jenn had to leave us. It was wonderful to have the time with Jenn and we look forward to heading back to the States at the end of the month to see the rest of our family and friends.

Tunis

 

Souse, Monastir, and Mahdia

 

El Jem

 

Djerba and Djerbahood

 

Berber villages

 

Douz, gateway to the Sahara Desert

 

Kairouan