16th April…….Pompeii to Cosenza
We left this morning and we have chosen two sites to stop at about half way down to Scilla which is at the toe of Italy and where we will catch the ferry to Sicily. We always do try to find alternative sites to stop at each day in case the first is not suitable or we cannot find it. All told we should have 268 miles for the whole journey down to the ferry so the first leg to Cosenza should take us four and a half hours. An hour on we had only done 10 miles because of heavy traffic through busy towns. Finally we reached the motorway which will take us all the way to our halfway stopping place. We were sailing along, finally eating up some miles when there was a police car across the carriageway. Due to extensive reconstruction of the carriageway the motorway was closed and we followed diversion signs which took us even higher up the mountains, over passes and it took us an hour to get us back onto the motorway. This happened another two times so we still had quite a long way to go by lunchtime.
Even though it felt like we would never arrive the scenery and the views we were getting were great compensation. This part of Italy has a fabulously lush green, undulating landscape and is totally opposite to the often barren, arid countryside of Spain. Crops, olives, oranges and lemons grow everywhere and periodically vast areas of greenhouses can be seen. Mountain ranges started to come into viewas we crossed the Region of Calabria and Basilicate and then there was the snow covered peaks of Monte Pollino dominating the backdrop and then we had the a dormant volcano Monte Vulture to feast our eyes on. This is a beautiful country and whilst we were doing our off motorway mountain pass crossings then the views from up there over the countryside far below took our breath away every time the trees allowed us to see down.
Six and a half hours and 203 miles later we arrive at Cosenza only to find that our first choice camperstop was blocked off so we then had to drive all through the city’s busy traffic to get to our alternative site. As we made our way very slowly there were eight kiddies on the pavement and their Mums were all in a huddle. When the children saw us they got very excited and started jumping up and down and waving to us. We waved back and then even the Mums started waving. Surely it cannot be that uncommon to have a motorhome drive through their city.
It has been a lot of driving today and a long time concentrating and having to deal with the mad Italian drivers the whole time but we have had views of this country which will last in our memories forever.
17th April………Roccalumera, Sicily
Straight back on the motorway today and thank goodness no mad excursions or diversions. We made good progress and 24 miles away from the port we pulled into a motorway service station only to park right behind an old English motorhome parked there. What a lovely pair of eccentrics they were and he was a proper Geordy lad. We stood chatting for about an hour whilst we compared places we had been to their choice of route. They had already been to Croatia and Bosnia and waxed lyrical on everything about the country. They told us they had eloped???? ( he was 60ish and she was in her forties) to Gretna Green and had driven in their motorhome down to Kent from Northumberland to go to a wedding and just decided to go from there straight to a port and start a month’s tour of Europe. They also were going over to Sicily but only for three days.
We got to the port and paid for our one way ticket to the port of Messinna.
The crossing took about 20 minutes and we have driven down the coast towards Catania and are now parked by the side of the road at a small place called Roccalumera. Just across the pavement is the beach and then the Ionian Sea stretches out for miles. As we crossed on the ferry we could see Mount Etna and we will not be visiting this much more active volcano but we will get to somewhere where we can get a decent photo. It is much too early to get an impression of Sicily as a place and Elaine is busily studying her book to get a plan for our tour.
The camperstop we aimed for was closed so we ended up going back to where we were parked on the side of the road in Roccalumara and the beach and the Ionian Sea are our neighbours. What a nice view we have as we look of the motorhome window. It wasn’t the best place to stop for the night, only because the traffic going past on the not so perfect road surface and continued most of the night rather like the M25.
We have moved on down to Catania and as we drove past the magnificent, snow covered Mount Etna and what a sight it is.
It dominates the other mountains around and every time it came into view you couldn’t help but notice the steam that pours out of the crater showing that it is a very active volcano. The roads were not good so it was slow but steady progress to get to Catania. We did have one diversion: we came across a low bridge and the height was not marked. It looked very debatable as to whether our 3 metre high motorhome would pass underneath. I got my fishing rod out and measured the bridge and the answer was no. I now had to turn round in a road narrower than the length of our van. At the start of our journey this would have been viewed as a bit of a drama. Elaine had the hard job. She had to warn the traffic what we were doing. Eventually we got turned round and we were able to carry on our way by finding an alternative route.
We have now got the most perfect parking place on a campsite right by the sea. The picture will show what we have as our view from our motorhome.
Parked around us we have the English couple we met on the way down, a very friendly German couple, an equally friendly much younger German couple with two small children, and a small camper van with two Canadians and a Swiss guy who are thoroughly enjoying the local beer. How they manage in their very small van is beyond me but they sit outside the van chatting and Elaine has been chatting with them during the afternoon. The temperature has been in the mid 20’s and the sky almost cloudless. We are beginning to enjoy Sicily and we will visit the city of Catania tomorrow. I took my fishing rod out again and had a try at catching our tea off the volcanic rocks, jutting out into the sea, just below our motorhome. Elaine knows all about my fishing expertise. She had already prepared a lovely chicken dinner long before I returned empty handed.
We had the most perfect rain shower this morning. It rained for exactly five minutes and that was it for the day. By the time I was ready to emerge from the motorhome the ground had dried up completely and the sun was shining. We enjoyed the sunshine and after lunch took our bicycles and went off to cycle along the sea front. When we got to the small port area there was a game of canoe football going on.
We joined quite a crowd of people watching this absorbing game. The two teams were differentiated by numbered white helmets or numbered black helmet. The goals either end were on floats and were raised in the air. A canoeist nearest the ball would stop paddling, and throw the ball to a teammate until they got near the goal. It would then be thrown to land in the net to score a goal whilst the opposition would raise paddles up high to stop the throw. Can’t say we understood all the rules because there was a referee with a whistle and periodically there was some infringement and the ball would just be tossed over to an opponent. It all looked very frantic and it must be a fairly tough sport as all the helmets had face guards and most wore some sort of body armour. We watched a few goals and a couple of amazing last man saves with raised canoe paddles.
We cycled on and came to a large road that ran all the way to the city centre. The road, on a Sunday, is closed to traffic and given to the local population for their pleasure. There were people walking, cycling, roller blading and periodically you would see four or sometimes more people on hired canopied four person bikes.
It seems everyone with a dog takes this opportunity to proudly walk their pets. People would stand in groups in the middle of the road chatting away excitedly just because they can. It was just fascinating to be part of this freedom to enjoy using this normally very busy road and to be able to cycle through red traffic lights (because they just carried on operating as usual). The atmosphere was friendly and happy and of course quite noisy because get Italians together then you are guaranteed to get a high pitched, excited, hub-bub of conversation with lots of animated arm waving.
Having locked up the bikes we had a wander around the city. We went up some steps into a garden and at the end was a bed with today’s date made from some sort of green vegetation.
That is quite a feat; does a council employee get up at midnight to dig up yesterday’s date and to plant today’s date to keep the calendar up to date? If so he must hate New Year’s Eve because he has to change the number, the month and the year as well.
The outside of the Cathedral is very impressive and in the middle of the square opposite there is a large plinth with animals with water pouring from their mouths and on top of the plinth is a large black elephant statue with an obelisk on its back with a cross on top. Throughout the city we have seen elephants depicted in various different ways and I gather even the local football team are known as this animal. Really must try to find out what is the connection between Catania and elephants.
Cycling back down the “road” we found it even busier than it was earlier on and at the port the canoe football was over. We both like Catania and may stop here for at least another day. Everyone we have spoken t seems friendly and helpful and our impressions of Sicily are very favourable indeed.