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Aeolian Islands

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The light, the clear sea air and the wide views over the sea and the rocky islands, with the silhouette of Sicily and the Etna far on the horizon, is what stays in my memory forever.

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Salina

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Sea view towards Panarea

The Aeolian Islands seem to be the perfect destination for a honeymoon to me. Romantic surroundings, plenty of options to do relaxed day trips to the other islands by boat, and at the same time a place to simply “be”, sit by the shore or at a place on a hill to enjoy the view, take things nice and slow, and spend quality time together. (This will never come true for me, but a girl can dream.)

The Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie or Isole Lipari) are located north of Sicily. Seven of them are inhabited: Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Filicudi, Alicudi, Panarea and Stromboli. In addition to these there are some small, uninhabited islands, rocks and cliffs. The islands are of volcanic origin – among them is Stromboli, the most active volcano in Europe.

Lipari is the central island with the largest settlement. It can be reached by ferry from Milazzo, from Naples and Palermo, in summer also from Messina. A network of other ferries connects Lipari with the other islands. Lipari would be the best place to select as base for a longer stay.

We only had one day, a day trip starting from Acireale by coach, then by ferry from Milazzo. Given the short time we only visited Lipari and Vulcano. No fire-spitting Stromboli for us,..

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Marina Corta

Lipari

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Lipari Castle

We arrived in Lipari by ferry from Milazzo. I do not remember exactly in which of the two harbours our ferry landed. Marina Corta is the old harbour next to the town and according to my photos it must have been there. There is a second, larger harbour, Marina Lunga, in the next bay behind the castle rock.

The old town is built around Marina Corta. From a steep rock, the castle overlooks and protects harbour and town. The main church is the cathedral of San Bartolommeo.

After a walk round the harbour we went up by bus to the highest summit, an extinct volcano. The crater has been lined with concrete and is used as water reservoir. The views from the road and from the summit are fabulous. You can see all the other Aeolian Islands and the silhouette of Sicily with the Etna on the horizon. The air was clear and the views incredibly fantastic.

The rocks are all volcanic. Pumice, for example for cosmetic purposes, is won in a large open-cut mine. There are also some spots where obsidian, a black volcanic glass, can be found at the surface.

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Vulcano

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This is the island that all volcanoes in the world owe their name to. Mythology tells that it was the home of the Greek-Roman god Vulcanus, or in Greek Hephaistos, the god of fire and the blacksmiths. The cone-shaped island is the top of a volcano that rouse from the ground of the sea. The crater is not entirely extinct but eruptions are a thing of the past. There is a bit of steam and smoke still, though. There are sulphuric springs of thermal water which are free to swim in. The crater can be climbed. All depends on how much time you have, though – we had the choice to either do a walk on the shore or have a quick jump into the hot spring by the ferry port.

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Total view of Lipari seen from Vulcano

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Ship moored off Vulcano

Posted by Kathrin_E 07:50 Archived in Italy Tagged sicilia Comments (1)

Up the Boot (1): Sorrento and Capri

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Sorrento

The way back home would be done by road, up the entire length of the "boot". A couple of stops were inserted on the way, so we had a total of 6 more days along the way. The first leg took us to the Gulf of Naples where we would spend the next three nights and two days. It involved the ferry crossing from Messina to Villa San Giovanni across the Strait of Messina, and then a long boring coach ride along the highway through Calabria, a bit of Basilicata and the southern part of Campania. Traffic congestions totally messed up our schedule. The driver had to sty behind the wheel muchlonger than he was allowed to - luckily no one controlled him. Despite the delay we stopped at Paestum for a quick tour of the temples. Since I had visited before I did not even take any photos - ah those were the times.

We stayed at a hotel not in Sorrento itself but in Piano di Sorrento. This was probably the nicest accommodation we had during our trip. I don't remember the name (there are several hotels in Piano that match my memories about the location). It was located above the port and beach, close to the edge of the cliff so many rooms and the big terrace had a fine view of the gulf. To reach the beach we had to walk down a steep winding road. Some of us did that one evening. The beach is black as the sand is volcanic material. The water was also opaque and blackish, but it was fine to swim. The ascent back up the cliff was the most strenuous part.

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Views of Sorrento from the sea

Italians are notoriously noisy (I speak fluent Italian and have invested quite a lot of effort into encounters with Italian culture, so I feel entitled to an opinion, no offence intended), but in the Naples region they are the noisiest of all. Our bus driver told us upon arrival, "Better take for granted that they are all crazy here, and take it easy." There were constantly horns touting somewhere, people talking at their normal voice (which others would call shouting) - well, all this is best ignored.

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The next two days were dedicated to the top tourist hotspots of that area. From Sorrento we crossed over to Capri by ferry. There we were met by a local tour guide. Our visit started with a tour on an open boat round the island to the Faraglioni rocks. We did not go to the Blue Grotto because it was "too crowded" - I suspect that they did not book in time to get a tour. Anyway, the Faraglioni tour was probably the better choice. This was thje part of our visit that I enjoyed most of all. We had gorgeous sunny weather and the colours of the sea were unbelievable. The Faraglioni are a group of pointed rocks that protrude from the sea water outside the southern coast of the island and its almost vertical cliffs. Legends say that, if lovers kiss when passing underneath the arched rock, their love will last forever. "The happy young couple" certainly made a big show of this. (Hrmpf.)

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Back in port in Marina Grande, we were herded onto a bus and driven to Capri, the main village on the upper part of the island. Capri island consists of two mountains, and Capri village occupies the saddle between the two peaks. This village is full of touristy designer shops selling the big brands that you find everywhere at inflated prices, and the type of restaurants that cater for tour groups. Our guide was one of the worst type, telling superficial stuff and trying to drag us into shops and into a restaurant where she surely got a good provision. I preferred to spend the lunch break on my own, trying to find a few quieter side streets. Some locals thought I was lost and tried to lure me back onto the tourist trail.

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Conclusion: Capri is breathtakingly beautiful but has been totally ruined since mass tourism discovered it. Perhaps, if you stay overnight you'll experience a different, quieter side of the island as soon as the day trippers are gone and get a chance to truly enjoy it. But during the day it is horrible. I have no desire ever to return.

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I Faraglioni

Posted by Kathrin_E 06:23 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Up the Boot (2): Amalfi Coast and Pompeii

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Yes, both in one day.

I had intended to stay behind in Sorrento because I had seen both Amalfi and Pompeii previously, and with more time to play with, and because I found this schedule far too rushed. But I was talked into joining this day tour. Probably the wrong decision. I saw nothing of Sorrento except the boat landing where the ferry to Capri departed, and the view from the water.

In high season - and October is peak season for coach tours - the Amalfi Road is a one-way street for tour buses. They are allowed to drive from West to East, but not vice versa in order to avoid congestions caused by big buses meeting in narrow curves and getting stuck. So we joined the file, the "goose march" as we say in German.
The Amalfi Coast is certainly spectacular. Enjoying landscape views from a moving bus is difficult, though. We had an excellent bus driver but the ride on this winding road along the abyss made the faces of many passengers turn into an unhealthy greenish colour. On the way we had a quick photo stop at a viewpoint above Positano to snap the view in the first photo, then we continued to Amalfi. In amalfi the group had a walking tour of the centre and the cathedral with a local guide. Once more I preferred to go on my own. A few years earlier I had spent a two week holiday in Amalfi, so I just went for a leisurely walk and revisited a couple of favourite spots and shops. I see that I did not even take photos becaue I already had enough (so I thought) at home. This would not happen to me any more today...

After about two hours in Amalfi we continued the coastal drive until Vietri, where we entered the motorway north to Pompeii.

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A lot has been written about the excavation site of Pompeii, the ancient Roman town, and the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. - including a little paper that I had to write for an art history class at uni - so I don't want to bother you with lengthy explanations. All this is well documented. This visit was a repetition for me; as a student I had been there on a history excursion. So I abandoned the group and their guide again and explored on my own. Here are a couple of impressions...

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Posted by Kathrin_E 15:44 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Up the Boot (3): To Assisi

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Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi

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To keep the group happy, two more stops were planned on the way back home. We still had three quarters of Italy's total length ahead of us. Past Naples and Rome we followed crowded motorways until we reached Umbria. Assisi was this day's destination. We arrived in the afternoon and went straight up into the old town of Assisi. The Basilica di San Francesco was the main destination. Mercifully we had no guide there (I do not think they allow tours in the basilica because of the noise, a talking guide would disturb the worshippers too much). Instead we got free time to see everything by ourselves. During my studies we had discussed the frescoes of Assisi and their background various times in lectures and seminars, so I was able to draw on my knowledge.

Afterwards we had a guided tour of the old town with its various churches. The sun was already low. Assisi was bathing in golden light.

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Assisi sunset

We spent the night at a hotel in the lower part of Assisi down in the valley, namely Santa Maria degli Angeli, not far from the big pilgrimage church over Portiuncola chapel.

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Pilgrimage church of Santa Maria degli Angeli

Posted by Kathrin_E 16:13 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Up the Boot (4): Verona, and Back Home

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We departed from Assisi after breakfast and drove on through Tuscany, across the Appennine and into the Po plain. A sightseeing stop was planned in Verona. We had a walking tour in the historical centre and finally went to the top of Torre dei Lamberti for a fantastic view of the city.

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Piazza dei Signori

Our last night in Italy was spent in a remote hotel in the Dolomites. Certainly a busy place during summer and winter season. Now, in October, it was opened for the tour group in order to make some money. One single girl was in charge of everything, and I felt sorry for her. Breakfast almost caused a revolution. They had calculated one single roll per person. Now imagine a bunch of German pensioners who had constantly been complaining about the Italian breakfast anyway... Everyone grabbed at least two rolls, expecting additional supply to appear from the kitchen but there was none, so for half the group there was nothing left.
I don't remember how the problem was solved. But I am sure that no one died of starvation.

The way back home lead over Brenner pass, through Austria and into Bavaria. Lunch was spent at a brewery restaurant - 'the' brewery restaurant - on Tegernsee lake in pleasant October sunshine. In the evening we were back in Marburg.

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Tegernsee

Posted by Kathrin_E 16:45 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

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