Nice to Naples 28th June 2003

We are finally moving into Italy and I am afraid will demonstrate an awful ignorance of classical history but here goes...

About 20 miles east of Nice is Monte Carlo (Monacco), once a poor independent monarchy, started in 1308 when the Grimaldi family bought it from Genoa – then in the 1800’s they were so poor they had to sell half of the country [Roquebrune and Menton] to France; they started the casino in 1857 to pay off the remaining debts.

The sea between Nice and Monacco/Monte Carlo is a marine equivalent of a motorway without a central divide, with lots of large motor boats charging up and down the coast in all directions producing a wildly turbulent sea especially as they tend to drive their boats like dodgems, ie swerving wildly at the least opportunity except when they are heading straight at you, when they stay straight until the last minute….

The wind was a fresh 25 knots, so were pleased to get to Monacco’s marinas, but they were full (or at least they rather ungraciously said they were – Nice had been charming, Monacco much less so), so we returned to Villefranche, a huge bay just east of Nice in a near gale, and anchored, along with a few super yachts and cruise liners. Anchoring is as much an art as science; after many arguments (along the lines of ‘If you had only dropped the anchor when I said, we would not have ended up 2 metres from this other yacht….’) we have learnt to adopt a no-blame approach, and that you often have to have more than one attempt to get the anchor wedged in tightly, especially if the sea bottom is weedy or flat rocks. And so it proved, by midnight the wind was a full gale and more, boats all round the anchorage were drifting, the French marine Red Cross were heroically helping 3 boats all sending out Maydays (in grave and imminent danger), and our anchor started to drag. Not a comfortable feeling when there are rocks 30 metres behind where you are sleeping (or at least trying to sleep). However anchors that drag can also catch again, and are often then stronger than before, and so it proved. We stayed up in watches throughout the remainder of the night, checking our position, and in the morning were in the same place watching other larger boats circling round trying to re-anchor. The forecasters predicted more gales, so we stayed put while the wind steadily …..decreased to a nice 10 knots and stayed there. Weather forecasts in the Med are as likely to be wrong or on strike as they are to be right, which makes for frustrating days

In a fit of pique, we sailed straight past Monacco to San Remo, the first large town in Italy as you go east along the Med. San Remo is a bit like an ageing society lady fallen on hard times - you can see that it used to be glamorous, but now its largely a place for people from Milan etc to buy slightly passe designer goods 30% cheaper. San Remo’s heyday was when a lot of white Russian aristocrats fled in 1917 with jewels etc and many arrived at San Remo. There is a beautiful Russian orthodox church built at this time; also a casino, which I guess reflects the 2 approaches to losing their status and position – gambling and religion. The casino now mirrors the town, faded elegance, slightly threadbare carpets, anxious clients wanting to get rich. We went in to look, spent 30 minutes losing our stake, and retreated to the boat.

You might think that countries in the EU would be converging. From our experience there is not a lot of evidence for that. To take just one example, whereas Spain has lots of new marinas and harbours built with EU funds, Italy seems to have avoided this altogether, and there are whole stretches of coast line with no port at all. However a number of the ports that do exist are porto comunale, and a harbour wall somewhere for boats to moor up for free, provided you can show your insurance certificate in Italian.

We had arranged to meet Bernard and Beryl from the Black Country (where Britain’s machine tools originally came from) for a short cruise. They will be sailing with us across the Atlantic in November 2003. The only suitable port we could find to meet them was Lavagna about 60 miles north of Pisa (under the left ‘armpit’ of Italy, south of Genoa). They may not have marinas, but the Italians have a major boat building industry, producing some of the world’s most luxurious super-yachts, and Lavagna is one of the places they are built and repaired. We arrived off Lavagna in the middle of a terrific thunderstorm with huge bolts of forked lightening arcing down to the sea 2 miles away from us. We were not keen to be barbecued, and managed to use our radar to find a way through the clouds without being fried, to arrive at Lavagna at nightfall. They were distinctly unimpressed to see us, but finally found a berth next to a racing super yacht that was being re-polished to a mirror like surface by some fairly disgruntled workers who clearly felt it was quite shiny enough.

This coast north of Pisa in Tuscany is called the CinqueTerre, (which presumably reflects the French occupation of Italy), 5 remote villages surrounded by superb holiday and hiking country in the Apuane Alps, which can essentially only be reached by boat or a train line that tunnels through vine clad hills that fall almost vertically into the sea. Bernard and Beryl took the train up from Pisa airport, (Italian trains are cheap and effective) and we explored the coast, anchoring in delightful bays, and continuing south to Pisa which is on the mouth of the River Arno, (having previously flowed through Florence). But the Arno is silting up, and is surrounded by huge nets which are lowered at random intervals, and rather seedy small rickety piers; Tony Blair and family holidayed within 1 mile of here about a year ago. We found a mooring, but then I got Intrepid caught on 2 shallow mooring lines. We spent an increasingly anxious 30 minutes trying to get clear, until finally the cutter which we have on our propeller to avoid entangling nets and ropes cut us free, and we circled back to pay for the damage. The marinero spoke no English, but was hopping mad, we were relieved to have got ourselves free, luckily Robert a German/American oceanographer helped translate and we arrived at a negotiated settlement of Euro 300. At least Bernard and Beryl had participated in a fairly typical boating ‘incident’, Robert drove B and B to the airport, I discovered a fellow psychologist in the middle of this shanty pier, and normality was resumed.

We doubled back to Viareggio, a seaside resort which also builds luxury yachts and with 6 days to wait before Pam Martin arrived for the next leg, spent a gorgeous few days visiting Pisa, and (by train and bus) the Carrera marble mines where the marble for all of Michaelangelo’s sculptures comes from.

I had not appreciated that Pisa’s leaning tower is actually the bell tower of the cathedral, built in about 1100. The park (Campo dei Miricali) contains 3 buildings: the cathedral, bell tower and baptistry – all absolute gems in white marble and stone – just grass, and 3 wonderful c 1100 buildings - collectively breataking. I loved it. We kept coming round corners and the leaning tower pops out at you at what really is a ridiculous angle, especially the lower 5 stories. Apparently the builders put half the foundations on the solid rock that supports the cathedral, but unwittingly the other half was on River Arno mud. Result: a really massive tilt, and no doubt a blame culture among the builders which continued until the tower was completed. A British firm stabilised the tilt about 10 years ago, and I went up the tower, a strange feeling as you spiral up at about a 10 degree lean.

About 20 miles north of Pisa, there is a mountain near Carrera quite literally made of solid white marble or at least what’s left of it is. Michealangelo used to come to Carrera to personally supervise the extraction of his favoured marble. All the towns nearby have industries cutting, polishing and shaping marble, and the mountain itself has huge quarries all round it and some on surrounding mountains. The mountain itself has been half removed already (although I suppose that it has taken about 1000 + years), and we were able to go down a mine into the very centre of the mountain where the marble is being extracted from the inside out. Obviously they can’t use explosives, so the quarry work requires diamond saws, and huge splitters – the work is very dangerous and there seemed to be large ambulance stations in each town. We could buy pure white marble from the deep mine for Euro 300/tonne, but there wan’t enough room in my backpack. A single family have the concession for the deep mine, they started 20 years ago with 50 workers, now with modern equipment 8 family members working mornings only extract all they need for a ‘nice quality of life’as they put it.

The surrounding country is a walker’s paradise, high enough to be cool, lots of marked Grand Randonne footpaths, good public transport, isolated villages, dramatic views. Intrepid was moored on the public quay in Viareggio, it’s a bit like being an exhibit in a museum, there were always hordes of people walking up and down and looking in at us, and we were a bit nervous of leaving her, but in the event it was all fine.

When Pam arrived, we sailed south to the island of Elba, where Napolean Bonaparte was exiled in 1813 after the fall of Paris. He was made Governor of the island, and had a really pleasant house on a cliff top with superb views. We went round the house which is full of prints of his battles and includes his personal camp bed. Elba is only 10 miles from mainland Italy (there are frequent ferries for Euro 6/person, 30 for a car); they are so frequent we had difficulty dodging them at times. It’s a beautiful island, steep sided with a natural harbour (Portoferraio) that Nelson particularly liked, and lots of sheltered bays. (We liked the harbour too). The allies must have been somewhat naïve for they allowed Napolean to keep 600 troops and a ship as Elba’s army and navy. When he had improved everything he could think of (roads, buildings, port etc), and was thoroughly bored, Napolean just boarded his ship with his army, evaded the British ships, and landed in France in 1815. The rest is history.

Most of the time Elba has been very poor with the main employment prisons and quarrying iron ore. We sailed to the east coast, which is a good example of successful spin. It used to be called Longone and was synonymous with Alcatraz in Italy, with the worst sort of criminal, and iron ore dust which left the towns red. But when the mines closed a name change to Porto Azzuro worked, and tourists now throng the main square in front of its beautiful harbour. Elba has dozens of superb bays, we stayed as long as we could, then sailed off south east to Rome.

The Romans did not seem to be a particularly sea faring nation, Rome is about 20 miles inland, and the Tiber is always silting up, so the only available harbour was Fiumicina, where Tiberius had dug a canal to make the Tiber at least partially navigable. There is only one rather shabby marina for the whole of Rome (there may another just south…?), but we had to meet James and Jules (his girl friend) and leave Pam, so we booked in and they were friendly enough once we had located them. It is not easy to get into the centre of Rome from here, and we found Rome’s transport system almost unfathomable. We took a bus, then train then metro then walked and finally found the Colliseum and the Forum and triumphal arches celebrating the sacking of Jerusalem in AD81 after the Jews got tired of waiting for the 2nd coming. Rome seems to exist in a series of time warps, its strange to be looking at the huge almost intact (albeit restored) Colisseum looking like a present day football stadium, where thousands of Christians were thrown to lions, then travel through time as you walk through the Roman Forum between the Palatine and Esquiline hills to the Piazza Venezzia which reflects the decision in 1861of the wildly feuding italian mini-states to combine as one nation under King Vittorio Emmanuele, (although the French still held Rome and it wasn’t actually until 1870 that they were forced out). The only resistance came from the Pope, who was stripped of his powers, and it was only when Mussolini came along that he restored the Vatican as the smallest independent state in the world.

The Vatican museums are continually updated, and the last time we had been to Rome the Cistine chapel was closed. This time we got in to see it, a totally uncatholic frolic of Michaelangelo’s naked bodies of the last Judgement on the end wall, and Genesis on the ceiling. Pam was thrown out by a Papal Guard (!) but we pleaded on her behalf, and she was allowed to continue. The cistine chapel is where the cardinals meet to elect the new pope, but most of the time is deconsecrated (which is why its OK to charge a modest Euro 10 to see it and the rest of the museums). The rest of the museums seemed to be largely various gifts of artwork to the Popes, but there were some interesting maps showing round worlds and Papal possessions even before Columbus set off.

By contrast St Peter’s Church is very holy, bare shoulders are not allowed, although Bermuda shorts are now OK (so Pam was allowed in). The church is so big (it holds 60,000) that its difficult to appreciate the scale of it. Michealangelo’s dome has large clear windows which lighten it a bit, and his Pieta sculpture (Mary holding Jesus after he came down from the cross) is staggeringly beautiful, Michaelangelo completed it when he was 25.

Whereas Rome was the seat of the Emperors, nobles and Popes, Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber was Rome’s port although only built some 500 years after Rome was founded. It prospered from about 100 BC to 300AD when the river cut a new channel during a huge storm, and an outbreak of Malaria caused the port to be abandoned quickly. The result is Ostia Antica with some of the most intact Roman buildings still standing anywhere, certainly some of the most representative of every day life. They include some terrific mosaics, paintings still vivid red after 2000 years, huge intact temples and 3 storey high condominiums which are almost as they were in AD200 when about 12 families shared the building which includes a luxurious bath suite on the ground floor. The entire site is about 2 kilometres by 1 kilometre, all of it stuffed with Roman houses and temples, built of Tuffa volcanic stone arranged in diagonal patterns, and fired or unfired clay bricks.

We reluctantly said good bye to Pam and Jules, and sailed off to Anzio south of Rome and one of the allied landing places in WW2. They must have got the idea from Nero who built an ancient harbour here. Now it’s a delightful fishing and touristy port. The harbour is shallow and muddled and our pilot book suggested anchoring, but a coast guard politely suggested we move outside; we did so, just before a large hydrofoil ferry went right over where we had been anchored.

We continued south to Circeo which is a Gibraltar look alike with the ruins of the old city of Circeo. According to legend Odysseus’s men were turned into wild animals by Circe, before Odysseus charmed (or bluffed) his way into her bed and his men were turned back into people. Now it’s a well protected port, and everyone seems to own a small boat. It was weekend, and if Monacco was like a marine motorway, this was like Sainsbury’s carpark on a Saturday, the entire sea seemed to have small motorboats on it, trying to find places to moor, and upsetting each other with their wash. We swam, then spent a rolly night, and headed off 100 miles south east to Naples.

Naples was capital of the combined kingdom of southern Italy and Sicily for a long time, is dominated by the Mafia, and is much closer to a southern or eastern city than a modern European one. All our guide books were heavy with warnings on crime, bag snatching from Vespas, squalor, dirt etc. The pilot book warned that you couldn’t be sure that your boat would still be there when you returned after a day out, and the few marinas are full and if there is any space charge about Euro100/night for no facilities (by contrast central Miami charges $40). Apparently the Mafia control the marinas (they are usually a cash business which is popular with the M).

Sometimes we manage to get in a right mess, but just sometimes we get lucky and round Naples we were fortunate. Naples is in the middle of, yes, the Bay of Naples, facing west, with 2 big islands, one on each side of the bay on the end of each promontory. The southern most one is the famously beautiful island of Capri, the northern one Ischia. We happened to find the tiny island of Procida which is closer to Naples than its near neighbour Ischia, but which seems to have missed all the fuss. Procida is only 3 miles by perhaps 1 at most, but has a large harbour with a free harbour wall right in the centre of the main square which is lively and jolly. We parked next to another Oceanlord owned by another Nicky and Andy (really), who are also doing the ARC this year (on another boat – shame), swopped information, ate Pizzas and found some delightful bays to snorkel in. We caught the hydrofoil into Naples (30 minutes, Euro 8 each way), and with some misgivings set out to explore. Apparently the banks in Italy pay Euro 150 for returned credit cards, so thieves steal them, use them, then return them when they get too hot. We left all our cards behind, chained poor Intrepid to the Procida quay, and set out to explore.

It was great, provided you liked a bit of life as it must have been lived for centuries. The traffic ignores traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, so we had to just step into the traffic, fix our gaze on cars approaching, and negotiate our way across. The streets are mostly so narrow they can only take a car in one direction, the shops are full of Italian fashion at half price, or Nativity scenes with finely detailed figures often with working limbs. We wandered, ate Pizza (Pizza was invented in Naples from Pitta bread, hence the thicker pizzas in Naples compared to the thin pizzas in Rome - Naples seems to spend more time ensuring that no rolling pins are used in making Pizzas than on any traffic schemes), bought shirts for James, and stumbled across a tour of the ancient aqueducts and Roman theatres 40 metres below ground. Naples is only 10 kilometres north of Vesuvius, and was started by the Greeks in about 1000BC because they could get huge quantities of Tuffa rock (soft flexible easily cut stone that provided ideal building blocks, superb for dealing with the c200 earthquakes that hit Naples each year). The Romans continued the idea of building with Tuffa, but then used the mine shafts for aqueducts, so that the inhabitants could just lower pots into the cisterns filled by the aqueducts 40 metres below to get water. The aqueducts were closed in 1850 after a huge cholera outbreak, but we were now able to walk through the aqueducts by candle light, some only 50cms wide to see this underground life. They were used as air raid shelters in WW2. There is an almost intact 6000 seat Roman theatre, but the archeologists can’t get to most of it because there are still about 20 houses built right in the middle of the theatre. Nero perfomed plays there, and thought Naples more Greek than Roman. We returned by hydrofoil to find Intrepid intact. Next port is Torre del Greco just south of Naples which is so close to Vesuvius that the next Pompeii could include Intrepid if Vesuvius cares to erupt. The town was totally destroyed in 1700 or so, but they just shrugged and rebuilt it…

Next stop is Stromboli, Sicily Sardinia and Spain…….

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