280 – 286: Sad to leave Sicily & Steep Stilo

280 – Monday 25th January 2016:  Poorly and Hot Bedding

Little activity … K’s cold worsened a little and J has nasal congestion. We did very little other than sit in the sun for a while.  Then we took turns for nanny naps … K’s was a major 2 hours.

Dinner could have been Dan’s Double Delicious Lasagne but we stayed away in case we ‘shared’ our bugs … so dinner was Spanish Pork casserole … Thank goodness for the freezer.


281 – Tuesday 26th January 2016:  Chardonnay Jobs

Another beautifully sunny day, which makes it harder to move off site, but we managed it.  Chard had a proper spit and polish exterior clean at the motorhome jet wash in Sante Croce.  EUR5 bought 10 tokens which bought cycles of shampoo, rinse and self drying polish.  She was cleaned in phases .. the ladder came out again and J did the roof, then one side and the front … about turn and he did the rear and the other side.  K supervised (!) and put the tokens in.  

Not content with that, we emptied the garage and cleaned it.  The major nap, medications & vitamins and the sun have done their work … K feeling MUCH better 🙂  And delighted that the heavy leg stage experienced by others had not materialised.


The weather has been so warm, we have been breakfasting en plein air 🙂

282 -Wednesday 27th January 2016: Packing Up

We investigated if Chardonnay urgently needed cam belt change .. a slight concern at translation issues as a mechanic we approached seemed to think he would need the van for two nights …. but we sleep in it?  You can sleep at the garage?  We extracted ourselves and J spoke to the Fiat dealer in Bristol.  Bear in mind this is the same garage who has sent me two scary emails stating that if we don’t get the cam belt changed, the engine will blow up! The mechanic, at same said dealer, said not to worry until it is 5 years old.  No great urgency after all then!  Cynical marketing by the Fiat dealer?  We had some good advice from people on the site to get it done as soon as we get home and to change things like the water pump too.  Will do.

The rest of the day was spent doing a bit of a tidy and putting the bikes back on the rack etc.

We celebrated our last night with a BBQ, followed by a fire log (with the addition of Magic Flame dust that turned the flames blue, green and purple) under perfect stars.  Way to go.


283 – Thursday 28th January 2016:  Wrenching Away from Punta Braccetto

We have met some really lovely people on the campsite and will definitely stay in touch with Dan, but it was with a renewed sense of adventure that we set off.  We had received an email from Frances and Edward that they planned to head off to Catania today, so we suggested they meet us in Aci Trezza at the harbour (we’ve stayed here a couple of times before).

However, we woke up to discover we had been rumbled by Three, whom both our phones and the wifi are with.  We have been roaming with them for over 10 months and we know of people who had their free roaming switched off after only two months, so we did rather well.  We headed for Aci Trezza via the TIM mobile shop in Ragusa to buy a data only SIM card.  We planned to pay EUR20 for 5gb, which lasts one month.  The girl in the shop was really helpful and suggested a special offer:  EUR39 paid up front for 5gb of data for 6 months.  I know we do not plan to be in Italy for another 6 months, but will be cost efficient as we will be here just over two months.  The problem we will have is that we are used to checking satellite maps to check our route, 30 min FaceTime Calls, reading BBC news and the Irish Times (J only), Facebook (K only!), investigating tourist attractions etc etc.  With only 5 gb / month, we are going to have to show a lot of restraint and hook up with free wifi whenever we can.  James was quick to point out that MacDonalds has free wifi!!!  Could that be justification enough for a regular burger and chips lunch?  The blog will be updated less frequently now, for sure!

Frances and Edward were already installed in the harbour car park … really lovely to see them again.  Real bonus for us, Frances cooked for us and gave us some books and a magazine 🙂  We will definitely be staying in touch with them.  There is a good chance they will overtake our leisurely journey north, which could mean a return meal shared.

One of the books had a lovely inscription on the fly leaf written by Frances:

We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey through the wilderness, which no-one can make for us, which no-one can spare us.  

For our wisdom is the point of view from which we come, at last, to regard the world.

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One of The Ciclopi from the small harbour

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The harbour in the morning light.


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Something we had not expected to see … just as we’re leaving Sicily, they start to cut back some of the growth that makes a two lane motorway feel like a one laner!


284 – Friday 29th January 2016:  A new country!

K ran … lovely to have a final run along the coast past the Ciclopi rocks to Aci Castello.  Always something to see …

–  Street cleaners using shopping trolleys with a bin bag to collect their sweepings … obviously no municipal issue cleaning carts.

–  An older chap who saw me and promptly started doing press ups on the railings … wearing his buttoned up coat and hood up.

–  A snogging couple, who obviously did not move from my run out to the return leg … her cigarette, lit but unsmoked, had burnt down to the stub with a long curl of ash.

We said au revoir to Frances and Edward and headed to Messina.  We were using both Brad the Sat Nav and Madge (Maps.Me on the iPad).  Incidentally, J’s choice of name, I wanted Janet to fit with Brad … The Rocky Horror Show.  One of the navigation aides (loose term) told us to turn off the motorway, we did.  We should have followed the other navigation aide … we ended up driving through the centre of Messina to the port.  As the passenger, K got to see the Duomo, the university etc.

We are both very sad to leave Sicily, but it was time.  We’ve spent 83 days in Sicily and once we got used to the driving, we have really enjoyed it.  We still feel there are places we’ve not seen, but we have done the main sights.  The guide books say that Sicily is full of contradictions and the road system is crumbling…. both statements are true – but the scenery is stunning – and the people are lovely – very warm and welcoming – almost three months well spent – we’ll be back…sometime.

K has a flight back to see her Munchkin from Napoli on 17th February and we need to tour around the toe and heel of Italy before returning to the Spartacus Campsite in Pompei. 

The oranges here are just amazing: sweet, large and juicy.  Lots of road side sellers … 24 oranges for EUR5 … under 16 pence each.  Shame I don’t have a juicer….

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We followed the coastal road around the toe.  Immediately we noticed an improvement in the quality of the roads, a lack of crumbling concrete structures and a more ‘normal’ driving style.  We ended up at a super FREE coastal, flat and quiet parking … it even has WC emptying and water.  Now wonder we are one of 20+ vans.  We thought it would mostly be full of Italians, but the Germans are the main indigenous population.  Some seem to be pretty well installed for a longterm stay.


Loads of space, full services and a view of the sea … and free.  What more could we ask for.

285 – Saturday 30th January 2016:  Law-less and Steep Stilo

We completed our services .. I would like to say incident free .. a hole at the base of the tap, which looked as the obvious choice for the WC emptying was apparently not so.  A local motorhomer came over and kindly told us where the correct emptying point was, but by this time it was too late.  Oops – we still got a friendly wave from him as we left.

We stopped at Locri Epizephiri, A Greek archeological site.  We really think we have seen the best of the Greek temples and cities at Paestum, the Valley of the Kings (Agrigento) and Silunente, but this was the first Greek city to have a written code of law 660BC.  Whilst we, obviously mistakenly, thought this worthy of comment, the archaeological site and museum did not mention it at all.  A disappointing visit.  We skipped hilltop Gerace, which sounded interesting, but the roads up also looked ‘interesting’.


Interesting to see the evidence of how much below ground level the Greek remains were … this Olive tree is hundreds of years old.


Doing improvement works such was covering some areas form the weather, but the actual stones are at peril of being lost to view among the long grass and over grown vegetation.


In the museum … Not seen one of these before … a bronze statue’s eyelash!

However, we both really liked Stilo.  Whilst another hilltop town, we had the good sense to park up along the road side as soon as we reached it.  Good call, as the roads were really steep and with lots of tight turns.  It is a lovely old town clinging to a ledge on the mountain, with views out to the sea.  The main attraction is the Cattolica – built in the tenth century by monks in Byzantine style, to celebrate the triumph of christianity over paganism.  It is quite iconic and, even better, FREE.  To get the best views, K clambered up what started as a path with steps then disintegrated into a narrow track – but worth it.


Bus bottoms viewed on our climb up to the town


On the railings … didn’t realise the Fiat Stilo had been around for that many years.


Front of the Cattolica – 5 iconic terracotta domes.



Would that be a young sapling rooted down there?


Rusted to the spot!

 Our night was another very quiet beachside parking.  Actually on the compacted sand and it had water 🙂  Our only ‘disturbance’ was a couple of cars with courting couples … misted windows!  Fabulous stars as virtually no light pollution.


286 – Sunday 31st January 2016:  Driving … What is that Light?

We both ran and K pilates’d on the beach.  Sun getting quite warm – is Spring here yet?  The winter is definitely leaving this area of Italy, we have seen a lot of almond blossom and broad beans have been spotted on a roadside seller’s stall … unfortunately nowhere that we could stop to buy some.  


We had decided not to continue following the eastern coast of the toe up to the instep as a) the coast is flat and samey … long beaches, small towns with the road following the railway and b) the guide books did not inspire us to make any stops.  Our intention accordingly was to get up close to Matera to another beachside parking.  As we were going to be driving for about 5 hours, we followed both Madge and Brad and followed the motorway for a good chunk.  

We had not long swapped drivers when the Engine Management System pinged at us and a warning light came on.  Under bonnet checks did not reveal anything and a Google search implied that the 2012 Euro 5 Ducato engine often has issues with Diesel Particulate Filter sensors.  Being Sunday, we were not going to be able to get a Fiat mechanic on the phone.  We had lunch and set off gingerly again.  Google had informed us of a Fiat concessionaire in Matera … so we stuck with the original plan.  Tomorrow we will drive straight there and make sure we’re up in time to arrive ’subito’.

Again, the beachside parking has a cluster of mostly German ‘vans. 












231 – 233: Noto Nocturnes

 231 – Monday 7th December 2015:  A Noto Ordination

Text by James … who will K find next to do the write up?

The morning run started a bit late but we reached Acicastello – I did a bit of speedwork along the Promenade – I am quite determined to race in the next month….

Adieu to Aci Trezza and we journeyed south on the A18 motorway – heading back to Noto. On our previous visit with our guest writer Kerstin, we had met a German lady who lived part time in the area. She told us that 2 new priests would be ordained on Monday night and on Tuesday there would be a large procession and lots of celebrations – this seemed an excellent reason to return – not just to see the wonderful Baroque buildings and churches.

Driving smoothly down the A18 motorway – K at the helm – just approaching the turn off for Syracusa – there was an almighty bang beside us – a shower of wreckage and bits in the air – a car had a high speed impact against the central reservation fence of the opposite carriageway ! We stopped on the hard shoulder and k phoned the Police – a number of other drivers must have done so – the Polizia arrived quite quickly.  The accident car looked completely wrecked – we just hoped the occupants survived….  Our van suffered some scrapes and a small hole in the bonnet from flying shrapnel – if it had hit our windscreen – it would have shattered !  Nothing compared to the possible injuries to the accident victims….  We have come to learn that the driving culture in Sicily is inherently unsafe – because we are 28’ long and a large vehicle travelling slowly, we probably have some advantages (unless it’s a mountain town !).

The free overnight parking area (photo below) looked good and just on the fringe of the old/rebuilt post-1693 earthquake city.  To get to the heart of Noto – there were steps to climb – not too many thankfully and just 10 minutes from the Citta di Noto.  Recce’d (what horrible English, James – just as well it’s not your first language !) and retired to Chardonnay to get suited and booted for the ordinations at 5:30 pm.   Now then – the last such event I attended was 30+ years ago – but I recall it was just like a wedding – invited guests only. However, we already knew members of the public were ok to attend in Noto.  We arrived at the Cathedral at 5:15 (plenty of time, we thought) – to find it was already filled to capacity (standing room only) – a thousand folk ?  Eventually, we sat on the step of a side altar – which had quite a good view. 5:45-ish, the grand occasion kicked off – a hundred priests (!) processed through the Cathedral – K reckoned all the priests of Sicily were there.  The Bishop of Noto delivered a homily – it was theatrical – my Italian/Latin is good enough to identify much use of “pecatta mundi” – the sins of the world.  As a Catholic (not a regular churchgoer), I have had my fill of fire and brimstone in the 60’s.  But, the bishop calmed down and the celebration continued with lovely choir singing – and finally Giovanni and Paolo became ordained priests – to rapturous applause from the huge congregation !  After 2 and a half hours, we slipped away – a lovely warm family occasion – a first for K.  

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View to Acicastello on our morning run

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View back to the Cyclopi Rocks at Aci Trezza

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We took this going back up the motorway on Wednesday: you can see with what force the car hit the barrier, and the barriers here are seriously strong – they need to be.  Less than 1 km further up the road we saw a newly overturned car on the opposite carriageway.

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Bishop’s looong sermon: it sounded full of brimstone and fire

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232 – Tuesday 8th December 2015:  Feast of the Immaculate Conception

We were awoken by 8 thunderous artillery rounds at 8:00 am – K was convinced that Mt Etna was erupting on our parking area – and she complains about my geographical prowess ! No signs of lava in the photo though…..

I had forgotten that 8th December is the feast of the Immaculate Conception – a most important occasion in the Catholic Church. K’s photos show the completely novel (to us) way of placing the floral garland on the statue of the Virgin – at midday outside the Church of St Francis of Assisi.  I even remembered the Latin words of the Angelus hymn – Amelia – can you sing it please ?  

The main procession was scheduled for 5:30 pm and we managed a quick glass of wine at Paolo’s cafe near the Cathedral…. Paolo knew every man, woman and child who passed by en route to the procession… He also serves a good Marsala, K assures me…..

The photos excellently capture the spirit of the procession – it took 40 strong men in relays to carry the statue of the Virgin around town – including one uphill section !

Yet another warm family event – all ages out on the streets. We probably celebrated these feasts in Ireland in a similar fashion 50+ years ago – clearly, Italy has maintained traditions that go back many centuries…  It definitely gets the whole community involved – not a bad thing ?

Paolo’s cafe seemed to draw us in again – was that Marsala K ? (K: yes another two glasses and they were not sherry schooner sized!!!)

A lovely day – one of those magic moments that we are lucky enough to find.  Will K become a convert – and drag me off to church every Sunday ?  I don’t have the heart to tell her that altar wine is not Marsala !  

Ciao, amici….




View down to our car park – 4 of the Italian vans went off early – up and at ‘em


Part of a nativity scene that filled a small room in a side street.


The Bishop emerges with the floral tribute to the Madonna …


… who hands it over to the fire fighters? ….


… aah – now I see why.


Tied carefully in place.  And then a cacophony of canon fire.


Town officials … sporting white blouson jackets … some were filled by their bellies!


The band struck up and this cheeky chappie caught my eye.


Bishop and church dignitaries posing for the press.


We celebrated with a coffee and J had a Tiramsu (just for you Sylvie – he did not really want it! – forced himself, honest!!!)


Church of Francis of Assisi ready for the parade of the Madonna


Clerics and church orders descended from the Mass first …

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The Madonna carried by a lot of burly priests and accompanied not by canon fire, but fireworks and showers of paper contain the words ‘W Madonna’ 


People and the band followed through the streets of Noto


Many watched on their balconies … this lady dressed to match her poinsettia plants.


We peeled off and returned to the bar, and about an hour later the nuns arrived, heading the procession



Once the Madonna was safely back at the church, there was a superb firework display


233 – Wednesday 9th December 2015:  Abortive Dentist and Motorway to Palermo

Minor dental treatment is required – not to sew up the outlet for the hot air – but a filling of sorts.  I visited a dental clinic in Noto but failed to get an appointment – K photo blogged while I pounded the cobbles and steps…..

Palermo beckons – for the second time – A18 again northbound this time. We passed the scene of the bad accident – the photo above speaks for itself. Later, a car on it’s roof on the carriageway – these motorways are not busy – what is it ? Speed seems to be the problem everywhere…..  Rush hour in the streets of Palermo en route to our overnight stay – the van fuel gauge suddenly indicated empty – somewhat adding to my driving stress levels….  a quick fuel fill and onwards.  K navigating by Google maps (Brad sidelined) – I managed to overshoot the gate of the parking area – K had to guide me reversing (the van, not K reversing) in the dark and rain and traffic, successfully…..

Buone notte, readers……


Postscript:  Well done Maddy

Well done to my Munchkin:

a) massive hair chop and donated it to Little Princess Trust

b) all selected Universities have offered her a place … she just needs to do enough work to get into the one she really wants … Kent Uni.

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