Farewell Sicily and around the toe of Italy to Roccella Ionica

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April 17th 2013
Published: April 19th 2013
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Todays gelato flavour - The actual name eludes me but it was sort of chocolate ripple with what seemed(under the street lamp at the table outside the gelateria)like puffed wheat.Anyone help me out on the name/flavour?

After 41 years of married life we often do things instinctively at the same time even at 3am in the morning and this was another of those times both of waking with the 'thirsties'.And no it wasn't anything to do with the cheap wine as we had a beer each last night at dinner.

We have put it down to the ingredients used in the tomato sauce base they use in their pizza and although last nights meal was one of the best we had had we still needed to slate the thirst with a large glass of water each.Perhaps out bodies just haven't been used to the freshly made sauce as opposed to the stuff they use in Dominos or Pizza Hut equivalent in NZ.

We were up early and had breakfast before packing up the car and on the road by 9am.We intend taking the toll route for part of the 70 odd kilometres still to run to Messina as we don't know where the ferry we need to take actually leaves from in the extensive port area and may need a little extra time to find it amongst the multiple number of shipping firms that have boats that ply the strait of Messina.

Nothing has really surprised us in this country of contrasts as we have travelled along and this morning the sight of rubbish men wearing masks as they lifted rubbish bags from a small pile of bags into their rubbish truck was no different.We had thought that once we saw someone actually doing something about clearing the rubbish that they would have to have something to keep the smell from their senses.

We continued to follow the coast road as we headed for the next on ramp to the motorway at Patti(odd name,sort of American, that seems out of tune with all the San.... etc etc).Just before the town. as we took a sharp right turn in the road, there was a small line of houses along the roadway and interestingly each had their front door opening right onto the road cars were whizzing by at over 70kph,no footpath,not even a step,but right onto the road,and there were people living in the houses!Makes one wonder if the road or houses came first.

Onto the motorway and we collected out ticket for which we will exchange for some Euros when the tollway comes to an end somewhere a bit closer to Messina.Our speed immediately picked up and we were off on the elevated road giving us the opportunity to view the towns and farmland from a different angle.

Here the grape vines and their leaves seem more advanced than we had noticed on the southern side of Sicily.Perhaps it has been the fine warm spring weather over the past days or perhaps it is the location of vineyard.

We are wondering what it would take to get a bridge or a tunnel named after us?Almost every bridge and tunnel either on a provincial road or highway has a name and we can't recall any that have carried the same name in different parts of the country we have driven so far.The name is announced just before the bridge or tunnel on a large board and also gives the exact distance of the tunnel or bridge.

The tunnels in Sicily however don't appear to be as safe as on the mainland with most of them having no obvious escape passages or shelters for that matter in case of fire.A 2.2km tunnel today was a good example and we were both slightly relieved to be through the other side safe and sound.Tunnels are a bit like Italian lifts where the doors close and the lift doesn't move!

Oddly though one thing that Italian drivers do obey when it comes to road rules,or at least truck drivers do,is that they do not overtake cars in tunnels.Perhaps it is because the cars aren't going that slow that a truck has an opportunity to pass in a tunnel.

The Italians like their motorways straight and even the slightest hill or rise in the land gets a tunnel.No cuttings here like they would do in NZ.

Messina was soon on the GPS and our fears that finding the ferry we had a return ticket to the mainland for were unfounded.We joined the queue just as a ferry was arriving and before we knew it we were on it along with a large bus full of French teenagers,half a dozen cars and a couple of very large semi trailer trucks.The ship was a much newer one than the one we had crossed to Sicily on and we were able to climb up to the bridge deck where we could observe the 5 crew and captain at their work on the 25 minute crossing of the strait.We were pleased that one of the crew was on duty with a pair of binoculars.Not that there were any rocks to plough into,a la Concordia,but there was a lot more shipping than the other day going through the straits as well as across.

You have to be ready when they drop the gangway as everyone is off in a hurry and we w ere quickly on the road heading to the toe of Italy.

Immediately we noticed the road was in much better condition than those of Sicily and even though we eventually came down to a single lane each way there was a shoulder to take any emergency action from opposing vehicles which were still overtaking in the most dangerous of situations.

Another observation we don't think we have mentioned is the large number of unfinished buildings that seem like apartment blocks usually only 3 or 4 stories high.We have decided that someone comes along and puts the steel in(yes some do have steel which is a relief to see as they look dodgy enough anyway)then ours the concrete and they wait for a buyer who will then finish the closing in and fitting out.The only problem is there seems to ba an awful lot of unfinished buildings at the concrete only stage many with tall grass growing up all around them and in some cases grass growing in them too!

Mt Etna was almost free of cloud cover as we made our way to the toe of Italy and soon turned in a more westerly and then northerly direction meaning that Etna disappeared from our sight.

The road conditions continued to be good for driving and with light traffic volume we made good progress along the coast.The sea was a striking azure blue and it is easy to see how you could become attached to the area especially on such a fine ,sunny day.

The SS106 remained wide enough for two cars and another parked as we passed through a number of small towns which was different to what we had experienced more often than not on Sicily where there was frequently only room for one car let alone two and a parked vehicle.

We arrived on the outskirts of Roccella Ionica and came across the hotel we had booked on the internet.Pulling into the driveway something didn’t look right with grass growing up through the cobbles and gardens unattended.While many of the places we have stayed at do not necessarily have a tidy appearance they did look more occupied than this hotel did with all of its shutters firmly closed.

A notice on the door,thankfully also in English,directed any potential guests to the Hotel Mediterrean in the centre of town.We had noted a comment of the booking.com site from December when we booked this hotel,that a guest had arrived then only to read the same notice we had found.We assumed the hotel is owned by the same people who own the one in the centre of town that we were being directed to but why they would keep this one on the edge of town available for accommodation when it had clearly being closed up for sometime is a bit puzzling and confusing for potential guests.

Anyway we easily found the Hotel Mediterean in the centre of town and it turned out to suit us very well.

We were greeted by a very enthusiastic man on the front desk who perhaps was trying to make up for any inconvinence we might have had.

What happened next though put the fear of lifts back in the front of Gretchen’s mind as we had been allocated a room on the 5th floor and the front desk man was eager to get us both and our two suitcases into a lift that was very reminiscent of Agrigento especially when the doors would not close.

After a minute or two of trying to get the doors to close with Gretchen standing well back from getting in he suggested he get us a coffee while he try and fix the door problem.

Five minutes later,our coffee finished and the door fixed he tried again to get us and the luggage in the lift.Gretchen still resisted and walked up the 5 flights of steps while I rode the lift with the front desk man.Gretchen would overcome her fears of Italian lifts before we left the hotel the next morning!

Our room had a lovely view out to the sea over the town square and we will get the rising sun into the wide windows tomorrow morning.

We chose this stopover as it was a good distance on our journey around the toe and into the instep of Italy.What we didn’t realise was that the town also had a medieval castle to climb up and view.

The streets winding their way up the hill were well paved which might have been done as part of the project that should have been finished in 2009 to restore the castle as a tourist attraction.Instead the project ran out of money and the restoration had never been finished.

We did manage to get to a high point where we had a great view of what remained of the castle and out over the town.Further inland we were amazed to discover a motorway that had been partially completed with sweeping bridges and tunnel portals but no joining roadway.Another example of infrastructure not being completed presumably because the country is broke!

Back down the hill we wandered through the streets acknowledging people we passed with our limited Italian greeting as we headed for the supermarket to get supplies for dinner.

Back at the hotel a bus load of Italian teenage girls to take residence for the night.They packed the lobby while they got the keys to their rooms.The front desk man assured us they were all being housed on the first three floors and no they wouldn’t be at breakfast.

After dinner we took a stroll outside down to the sea front and then back up the town to hunt down a gelato and found a cafe still open at 9pm.It was mild enough to sit outside and consume the chocolate with puffed wheat gelato before heading back to the hotel.

We made a good distance today from Sicily around the toe of Italy with good driving conditions and pleasant seaside scenery and now we start our trek to the north of Italy over the rest of April.


19th April 2013

Unfinished buildings and that G...... place name
I see you went past Marina di Gioiosa Ionica to get to Roccella Ionica. You must be great at pronouncing those names by now. In Turkey there are many unfinished houses with reinforce steel protruding upwards. The next floor will be finished as the family grows. Married children will take up residence in the new storey above. I understand in Greece you see similar buildings but this is a tax dodge. You don't pay as much in tax while your house is under construction. Perhaps the Italians have a similar arrangement to either the Turks or the Greeks. Something else for you to find out - ask a local. Now that will be the next challenge.
20th April 2013

We haven't met a lot of people in the south who talk English although we should have asked the question of last nights host as he did.......bugger

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