Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hello People,

So where did I leave things? Will, Robin and I have been traveling for a dozen day across England, France and into Italy. We visited the Scouting World Jamboree, London Tower, Oxford, Stonehenge and Mont St. Michel. Finally we have arrived in Venice on a very hot and have linked up with Kristina.

Kristina had also left Stockholm of August 3, about an hour before we did. But she went to a conference in Australia. You will have to ask her to describe the tales of that odyssey.

I will add that our hotel in Venice was without air conditioning and so we learned the real reason for the big heavy shutters which most older Italian builds have - to keep the midday sun out and to keep the rooms somewhat cool.

DAY 13 - Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Venezia (Venice)

Our hotel is on the island of Lido, southeast of the main part of Venezia, so after breakfast we went down to the bus/boat stop and caught the boat to Piazza San Marco. I do not know if I should call these boats "buses" or "ferries". We have transit passes just like for buses and subways in other cities, and there are designated stops and even posted time. There is a ferry map with multiple colored lines which show the routes of the different ferries - but this is Venice, and it is all on the water.

In the Piazza Robin bought a bag of corn to feed to the pigeons. I thought this curious. In London the selling of pigeon feed at St. Paul's and Trafalgar Square had been curtailed to clean up the squares from pigeon droppings. But not here. The feeding of pigeons is clearly an important activity.

And then the glockenspiel started playing. The pigeons, the crowds of people, the glockenspiel, the Basilica. This was Piazza San Marco!

We started wandering the maze of streets towards La Fenice - the Opera House. Kristina and I have recently read the book, "City of Fallen Angles", which is a journalist view of Venice, with the burning and rebuilding of La Fenice a central theme. Unfortunately today is a holiday and La Fenice is closed. From the outside it looks similar to other building in the neighborhood - except it is straighter.

Will and I took the #1 boat up the Grand Canal to the train station to get ticket to Perugia tomorrow and Robin and Kristina went back to the Piazza to go up the Tower of San Marco. We all converged a few hours later at the Rialto Bridge for lemonade, then took the boat back to our hotel and the beach for an afternoon swim.

In the evening we had pizza at a sidewalk restaurant and then took the boat back to Piazza San Marco. We walked around the square listening to various bands. Finally we settled with a jazz band who were playing request - including the Doors.

Map of Venice

In Piazza San Marco
Robin and Pigeons
Robin and Pigeons
Piazza San Marco
Will and a Gazebo
Nightime in Venice

DAY 14 - Thursday, August 16, 2007
Venice - Perugia

After checking out of our hotel we stopped at the post office to ship our tents and sleeping bags back to New Hampshire. We had and hour and a half until our train left. A few minutes in the post office made sense.

Well it took us an hour to box up and ship two tents and three sleeping bags! This meant that we barely caught the boat to San Marco and there was little chance to catch the #1 boat to the train station in time. So we took a water taxi. This taxi was a beautiful wood and varnish boat and the driver sped around islands and then laced his way through small canals to the train station. We made our train with five minutes to spare.

The first leg of our train trip was to Florence on a "Eurostar" train, which was very nice and helped us recover after the stress of the post office and the dash across the city. In Florence we switched to a local train to Perugia.

Kristina had been to Perugia about a month earlier, and so knew the way. First we took a bus from the train station up a twisted, winding road to the hill top city. We got out at the Piazza Italia and walked through the old city to the "Garden B & B", where we meet Ginna, our land lady. Kristina had stayed here a month ago. Ginna speaks no English, but continuously talked to all of us. She had expect that Robin and Will were "bambinos", small children or babies and was amazed to actually see them. She kept on telling us that Will was a big, strong "Amazon".

That evening we wandered the city, past the Etruscan Gate (pre-Roman) and had dinner in an old square near the cathedral. Later, back at the B&B I sat in the garden for a long time looking up at the stars. A very pleasant night.

In the Water Taxi
Venice from the Water Taxi
Venice Bridge & Taxi
A Gondole
A Boat/Bus Stop
At the Train Station
Will and the Etruscan Gate

DAY 15 - Friday, August 17, 2007
Perugia & Assisi

Breakfast at the Garden B&B is a little card which you take to a cafe three blocks away. After breakfast we took the bus down the switchbacks to the train station. We were on the train for fifteen minutes, and then another bus took us up the switchbacks to the hill top city of Assisi.

The sun is very intense as we climb the last bit of the hill to "LaRocca Maggiore", the major fortress. Here we sat in the shadow of the fortress and lunched, then went in. Inside you are free to roam into almost any corner. Up spiral staircases, along the walls, through deep, dark (okay - with small modern lights) passageways. We sat on top of one tower for awhile looking across the countryside. Behind Assisi the hills and mountain continue to raise and reminded me of the coastal range in southern California, and area which Californians describe as "Mediterranean".

But Assisi is not famous for its fort, rather its saint. So after leaving the fortress we worked our way across town to the Basilica of Saint Francis. The Basilica is large and build in two layers, an upper and lower Basilica. There is even a third lower below that, the crypt where St. Francis is entombed.

There was one modern relief sculpture which I really liked. In it a monk is having a vision of St. Mary. Much of it looks old, but it must have been modern because the monk is wearing horn-rimed glasses.

After fica it is time for a bus, a train and a bus to bring us back to the B&B. In the evening we again go out to dine in the old square of Perugia.

Map of Perugia - Assis Area

Will at La Rocca Maggiore
At La Rocca Maggior
Robin in Assisi
All of us at Assisi
Wainting from the Train
Assisi on the hilltop

DAY 16 - Saturday, August 18, 2007
Perugia - Napoli (Naples)

This morning we stopped at an internet cafe and I sent an email to my mother. It is her birthday. But she is wandering around Alaska and I do not know if she has email access. Will also fires off a few emails to friends telling them that indeed he is alive and someplace in the middle of Italy.

Once again we take the bus down to the train station and catch the train back north towards Florence. Half way to Florence, in the town of Arezzo we switched trains to the one heading to Napoli. We should have had about 20 minutes to make our connection, but our train is late and when we pulled in the Napoli train was already there! We dashed through the tunnel, up to the platform and hopped aboard with seconds to spare.

We are in a compartment and Kristina tells the boys that this is the first time she has ever been in one. They find this amazing. After all their experience in sleepers in Sweden and across France and Italy a compartment seems very normal.

We are in Roma (Rome)! But only for ten minutes and train rolls on to Napoli. Napoli is a big and confusing city so we take a taxi to a square near our hostel. Then we follow directions down two dim allies to a great iron grate. On the side of the gate is a little sign proclaiming "6 small rooms". 97 steps up and we are at our hostel.

The entrance may have been strange and a bit intimidating, but the hostel is very friendly. Most everyone else is in their twenties and there seems to be a large number of Australians and New Zealanders here. They are also all full of advice about bus, trains, the sights and where to eat.

We eat at a pizzeria two blocks away which is very, very busy. Will watched for awhile and then laughed and told us that he remembered reading that Douglas Adams said that if you could capture the wasted energy in an Italian pizzeria you would have enough energy to run a small city. We now understand that. But the pizza, when it arrived, was very good.

Kristina and Ginna

DAY 17 - Sunday, August 19, 2007
Napoli & Pompeii

Today we went out to Pompeii which meant taking a bus back to the train station and then a train. We traveled on the "Circumvesavius Line", which is a local train, to Pompeii.

Pompeii is a curious place at best. Its streets are there, parts of its buildings are there, but it is a ghost town. Wind blows down the street and send up a cloud of vesuvian dust which most certainly adds to that ghost feeling.

Pompeii had between 8,000 to 10,000 residence in a city about a kilometer or a bit more on a side. We wandered through the Forum and the Temple of Apollo, but it all seems a bit hot, dull and (yes) dusty. The bakery and the "fast food" shops are interesting, but all these build are bit of broken stone and brick ... until we arrived at the "Villa of the Mysteries".

It was at the Villa of the Mysteries that the magic of Pompeii really caught our imagination and interest. Here was a house nearly in tack with beautiful paintings on the walls and extensive and complex tiles underfoot. We wandered around this house for a long time. There is a courtyard in the middle with a covered walk way around it -- like a cloister.

After this it seemed as if all the houses were more complex, but none as complex at the Villa of the Mysteries. We visited the 'House of the Small Fountain', the 'House of the Faun', and so forth. All the house are named after something found there. The 'House of the Lovers' takes its name from graffiti on the walls, "Lovers, like bees, make life as sweet as honey" (in Latin).

We also visited the Large and Small Theater which were very cool, and Will recited a bit of Hamlet for us from the stage. We then walked down the long street to the Amphitheater and Palaestra. In the Amphitheater it was easy to imagine a large part of Pompeii's population watching some sort of entertainment, maybe an intense event with the audience on the edge of their stone benches, or maybe a Saturday matinee with the equivalent of pop-corn and lots of chatter in the bleachers.

The Palaestra is a large square designed for the physical activity of the youth. I think of it as the 'Pompeii Rec. Center', with playing fields and a swimming pool.

The streets are curious. They are paved with stone and have raised sidewalks and at the intersections there are 'stepping stone', so you can get from sidewalk to sidewalk without stepping down into the street. Were the streets filled with mud and filth?

That evening we returned to the same pizzeria as the night before. But it is Sunday night and the whole place is calmer and with less wasted energy then last night.

Map of Napoli Bay Area

Pompeii street
Robin in a bath
Pompeii tiles
Villa of the Mysteries
A cool corner
Pompeii Floor
Will doing Hamlet
Robin in the Theater
The Amphitheater

DAY 18 - Monday, August 20, 2007
Napoli & Vesuvius

Today we are going to Vesuvius, the volcano which rained death on Pompeii. But on the way way there I had an odd experience - I met a pickpocket.

We had been warned about pickpockets in Napoli. We had crunched onto a bus to get to the train station and there was a man who seemed to have wedged himself up against me in the crowed and packed, but tighter then need be. I at first thought that he was clutching a satchel tight up against himself, but really he was using the satchel to hide his hand which was patting my pocket looking for my wallet. The bus stopped as I realized this and starred at him in disbelief. As soon as the door opened he jumped off and into the crowed on the sidewalk. My wallet was safe in my daybag which was held tight to my chest. Another curious experience on this trip.

Again we took the "Circumvesavius Line", but not as far as Pompeii. When we got off it we took a mini-bus / shuttle on a fast and winding trip up Vesuvius. I think the driver must earn more the more runs he makes up the mountain because he saw no reason to slow at curves and no reason to not pass slower cars even with oncoming traffic. Still, we got to the end of the road, about 1-2 kilometers from the cauldron of Vesuvius. The driver left us off and told us a very specific time then we must be back by, and then we start walking.

The is a broad trail up the mountain, wide enough for a car to drive on and with a hundred people climbing up. It is like some great pilgrimage. The walk way is made of volcanic dust and very soft underfoot. The sides of the volcano are mainly ash and cinders. Sometimes there are bolders of solid rock, but even these boulders are just oversizes cinders. Along the way is a retaining wall, maybe 30 centimeters tall, which is bowed out. A boy ahead of us is throwing rocks at this wall when suddenly a three meter section of the wall collapse giving us all a start.

At the top we stop and have lunch and look down into the cauldron. It is maybe 100-200 meters deep and we like watching clouds which blow up the side of the mountain spill over and fall into the cauldron.

Back at the hostel that evening it is my Birthday! So Kristina and I go out food shopping. As we explore that part of Napoli we find a funicular which is also a subway up a locale hill. We can not resist, and rode it up and down.

Back at the hostel we cooked up pasta for dinner, and then invited all of the other guest to join us for a birthday cake we bought at a bakery. It was wonderful! A combination of nuts and chocolate!

Robin and Will played cards with two Australians late into the night.

Napoli from Vesuvius
Vesuvius Cauldron
Vesuvius (Movie)
Kristina and Robin at Vesuvius
Tim at age 47
Going down Vesuvius

DAY 19 - Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Napoli - Amalfi

Originally we through it would take us two days to get from Napoli to Stromboli because we thought we would have to take the train to Messina, cross to Sicily, maybe spend a night at Syracuse or Malanzzo and then get a boat to Stromboli. But I have since learned that we could get a boat directly from Napoli to Stromboli. So now we had an extra day in our schedule.

At the '6 small rooms' hostel we say a notice about a hostel in Amalfi. The people running 6 small rooms called and made reservations for us - and off we went.

We caught the 9:50 high speed boat out of Napoli and across Napoli Bay. These high speed boats are popular in Italy, but not really with us. You sit in a seat as if you were on a bus or in an airplane. You can not walk on the deck. Not only is it to windy, you are moving at 60-80 kph (40-50 mph), but there really isn't any deck. In any case we soon left Napoli Bay, passed the island of Capri and headed down the Amalfi coast. Our first port of call was Positano and then Amalfi.

The coast seems to drop down a cliff and into the bay and it is hard to believe that people can build house on this slope and live here! We landed and soon found Chris, who runs the hostel. He was wandering around the dock giving people information and looking for lost soles who had no place to spend the night. We soon got on a bus with him and 2-3 km later, a dozen hairpin curves and well up the cliff face we got off. From there it was only 300 steps up to the hostel.

The Amalfi coast essentially has one twisted road cut into the cliff face which connects the coastal towns, and then lots of walkways/staircases which go up and down the cliff face. For every house on the road there are ten houses on these staircases. After dropping our gear at the hostel we headed to the beach which the people at the hostel call the '1000 step beach', because that is how far down it is to it. For comparison, it is 1,600 steps up the Eiffel tower, but we could only walk up to the second floor, which is about a third of the height, a mere 500 steps.

The beach is cobbled and sits in the mouth of big cave in the cliff face. It is crowded, and build into the cave is a restaurant where we have lunch. Finally we swim in the Mediterranean - or have we? Isn't this the Tyrrhenian Sea? Or is the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic, which we swam in at Venice, just part of the Mediterranean? These are the sort of question you can debate on vacation when you do not have a reference library to consult.

Back at the '6 small rooms' in Napoli we were told that the easiest way back to the hostel from the 1000 step beach was to get a boat to the main Amalfi dock and ride the bus back. Shuttle boats stopped at the beach every half hour, so we did that. But back in Amalfi we stopped to explore the town for awhile and have lemon granite (ices).

Amalfi is now a town with 6,000 full time residence. It is hard to believe that in the year 900 it had 70,000 residences and was considered one of the three major ports in Italy!

Back at the hostel we met Chris again. He promised to take anyone at the hostel to a good restaurant in Pogerola who wanted to go. Pogerola is a village high up on the cliff overlooking Amalfi. We were the only ones who took him up on it. It was a great meal and afterward Chris (who seems to know everyone on the coast) talked to the headwaiter, and reduced our bill by about 30%!

Approaching Amalfi
The Amalfi Coast
Swimming at
"1000 Step Beach"

Tim in Amalfi
Amalfi Square
After Dinner

DAY 20 - Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Amalfi - Panarea

The plan today is to take the boat back to Napoli and then catch the boat to Stromboli - or at least that was the plan at the beginning of the day.

We caught a bus down the cliff face to the dock at Amalfi only to learn that the boat to Napoli was canceled. We had just missed a bus to Napoli because we thought that the boat would be simpler, the traffic on the one road along the coast looked to be crawling. But now we had no choice. We caught the local bus headed to Sorrento. First we go a dozen kilometers up the coast to Positano. I remember that the boat did that stretch (dock to dock) in fifteen minutes. The bus crawled up the road and took an hour to cover this same distance.

I must describe traffic on these roads. If you are to drive only in your own lane you would need to slow down to 10 kph at every turn, the hairpins curves are so tight. So instead the buses use both lanes. But what if there is oncoming traffic? That is why the buses beep their horns at every turn. We said that the buses traveled by sonar. Beep-beep. When buses met cars there is enough space to pass each other. But when buses meet buses or truck - it depends on the part of the road. Several times the drivers would reach out the windows and fold back the rear-view mirrors, and drive up on sidewalks or into ditches.

Beyond Positano the road straighted out a bit and we traveled the next 15-20 kilometers in another hour to Sorrento, which was the end of the bus line. Here we caught the "Circumvesavius" train again. This time we were at the far end of the train line. It took us all around Napoli Bay back to Napoli. Here we took a taxi to the boat dock and checked in. We have an hour to spare, so went to the "Buffalo Cafe" and enjoyed our lunch. The problems of travel had been solved for the day - perhaps.

We boarded the boat and headed to Stromboli. This boat was a hydrofoil which jetted over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Again, we can not get out on deck, and inside they are showing the movie "Night at the Museum", in Italian. In Sweden they leave the English audio, but include Swedish subtitles. But in Italy they dubbed over the audio in Italian.

At about 6:15 we can start to see the distinct cone shaped volcano of Stromboli, and at 6:30 we slow down half a kilometer from the dock. And then the captain announce that we will not be stopping at Stromboli, the waves are too high!

Twenty minutes later we are on the dock of the next island, Panarea. But we are not the only people who have missed Stromboli. There are about a dozen of us who are on Panarea but not by choice. The other people start calling people they know and there is hope that maybe a boat can be arranged to take us back to Stromboli. It is 20 km away and we can see it. But the day is getting late and the lights are fading.

Still, the crisis has bound the dozen of us together and when it looks like there is no boat that night people start calling for hotels and rooms. Panarea is a small island with a dense tourist district. It is popular and pricey. We found a room, but for about twice the price of our place in Stromboli. A half dozen more phone calls and some one finds a condo we can rent for the night. We split it with Luke and Mia. They are from Australia - but their families are Italian and they both speak the language and Luke has inherited a "shack" on Stromboli. The condo is about the price of our Stromboli rooms.

So, late at night, we finally settle down to pizza on the wrong island - and then to bed.

Amalfi Hostel
Amalfi Coast
On the boat to Stromboli?

DAY 21 - Thursday, August 23, 2007
Panarea - Stromboli

We packed quickly in the morning and then hung around the dock until we finally caught the 10:15 boat to Stromboli. This has been our ultimate destination since leaving Stockholm, and after yesterdays fiasco it feels so good to stand on the black volcanic sands of that island.

Stromboli is a simple island. There is another community on the other side of the island, but we never got there. There are two major roads on the island, each about one and a half kilometers long, one running along the beach and the other 200 meters inland. On these run a continuous stream of scooter, mopeds and three wheeled miniature deliver trucks. Most tof the building are one these two roads, or on the short walkways which connect them. Our rooms are about 400 meters from the central square of San Vincenzo and we soon learned all we needed to know about where to buy groceries, bread, fruit, cheese and pizza.

We went down to the beach after lunch and went swimming. The water is so blue, so clear and warm. Will found one white stone on this black beach and the boys throw it out into the deep water, then race after it swimming and diving. Will is very good at this. This is such a relaxed day after the problems of yesterdays travel.

We also learned what was the problem with the boats at Amalfi and Stromboli. There has recently been a Sirocco - a strong hot wind which blows out of Africa. These two harbors are exposed to the south and boats have a hard time landing under those conditions.

Next to our rooms is a terrace which overlooks the ocean. That evening we buy some pizza and bring them to our terrace for supper. This is going to be a nice place.

However it is hot that night and there is a disco down on the beach which is blaring music. And then just when I have gotten to sleep the wardrobe in our room collapsed! It was five in the morning and I think there must have been a tremor from an eruption of the volcano. As it pitched forward I awoke to see the television slide towards the edge of the wardrobe. I quickly put my foot up, out of bed to catch the TV. Somehow I stop it from crashing to the floor.

Actually that was the end of unscheduled excitement on Stromboli.

Map/Photo of Stromboli

Stromboli -
at last

DAY 22 - Friday, August 24, 2007

We rented mask, snorkels and flippers and did a lot of swimming. There are a lot of jellyfish in the water that morning and I was stung on the back. Jelly fish are called "Medusa" by the Italians.

It is a restful and relaxing day. Bread and cheese for lunch. Reading and swimming in the afternoon. And then a little bit of exploring of the community.

In the evening we again eat pizza on the terrace and watched the flashlights of the "MagnaTrek" returning from the volcanoes cauldron. A good nights sleep too.

A Jellyfish Bit
Kristinaon the beach
Will on the beach
Volcano smoke

DAY 23 - Saturday, August 25, 2007
Stromboli & a hike to the cauldron

After breakfast on the hotel's veranda the boys and I walked up to the main square of San Vincenzo and I rented them hiking boots, a day pack and head lamps. Tonight we will climb the volcano.

The day itself is a lot like yesterday, except without the jellyfish. We swam and read and swam some more. A slow lunch and slow afternoon until it was time to pack for our hike.

It is only a little over a kilometer in a straight line to the top of the volcano, but it is over 900 meters of elevation gain as well. Also we are required to go with a certified guide because the volcano is active. So we are hiking with a guide from MegaTrek.

Our group is about thirty people, three-quarts Italian. At most stops the guide talks a bit about the island and volcano, about three-quarters of the time in Italian. We start climbing at 5:30. Each one of us have been issued a helmet in case there is a shower of cinders on top.

It is hot when we start, but it cools and there is a nice breeze the higher we go. Up to the 400 meter mark we wind through brush and scrub trees, but by the 500 meter elevation all that has disappeared and we are climbing in ash and lapilli. The ash is a light powder and the lapilli are volcanic cinders from the size of sand to the size of gravel. We eventually get onto a ridge which is a more compact and harder surface, a volcanic tuff. And the trail zig-zags up this ridge.

We have been stopping every 20-30 minutes. The guides are in no rush. At about 7:45 we stop, nearly at the top. There is a safety shelter here, a structure about the size of a bus shelter but made of concert and steel 15-20 centimeters thick. We are told that if we need to remove our helmets, do it in the shelter. We are at 928 meter elevation her.

And then the volcano explodes and a thrill runs through the group. We can not see the cauldron proper from here, but the ground shakes and there is a plumb of smoke 100 meters tall just beyond the last ridge.

Our guide talks with us and the boys sit and eat the rolls which we have brought up with us. We are waiting for the sun to set and the darkness to descend upon us. Finally we are given the signal and hike the last 200 meters to the edge of the cauldron. Down below us one patch is glowing orange and I understand why we have waited until dark. In the daylight you could not see the glow so strongly. We are all think this is great, when the volcano erupts below us! The vent we can see is about 280-300 meters from us, about 200 meters below us. The continuous glow we can see must be roughly 10-20 meters across, and the eruption is like watching a Roman candle shooting liquid rock up 80-100 meters. It is beautiful and amazing at the same time.

We are felling good about actually seeing an eruption, like going on a whale watch when you first see a distant tail and you tell yourself it was worth it. But there is more. Ten minutes later another eruption, and a minute after that a second fissure spouts a arch of embers across the cauldron. We had not expected the second one and it is of greater beauty the way it arches across the darkness.

We stand up on the edge for half an hour and witness half a dozen eruptions. It was well worth the climb, but now it is time to go down.

The guides have issued us paper filter mask like you might wear while sanding floors or plaster and we put these on as we descend. The route they lead us on plunges down a slope of loose ash. With every step we drop half a meter and soon our group is engulfed in a cloud of our own dust. All you can see at times are the bobbing blue light from the headlamps in the dust. But by traveling this way we drop to 500 meters and the vegetation line in 20 minutes. We all stop to empty our boots and then continue on to town.

We meet Kristina in the square in front of the old church, and then brought more pizzas to take back to our terrace. What a beautiful night to sit out and watch the moon light and boat lights on the still Mediterranean.

Climbing the volcano
Looking down on the village
Dusk on the volcano
Waiting for dark
Strombolian eruption
Strobolian eruption
Moom over the Mediterranean

DAY 24 - Sunday, August 26, 2007
Stromboli - Milazzo - Palermo

Our original plan was to take the boat today to Milazzo, which is on Sicily, and then tomorrow take the train to Palermo, and fly out the day after. But we decide to put all the traveling into one day, leaving tomorrow as a day to relax.

So after breakfast we pack up. I walked up to the rental shop to return equipment. When the women there say the dusty backpack she asked if we had a good hike. I said that we did, but then pulled the flippers out of the backpack. She laughed and asked how they worked on the mountain, and I told her that they helped you not sink in the dust and ash.

We caught the "Ustica Line" hydrofoil at 11:00. The Ustica boats have always run on time for us. The boat stopped at Panarea, Lipari, Salina, Vulcano and finally Milazzo. The sun on the dock is very bright and hot. We immediately took a taxi to the train station, hoping to catch the 15:52 express to Palermo. But that train, which started in Rome, was well over an hour late, and apparently not gaining. So we bought tickets for the 16:16 local and waited on the platform.

On the platform we met a scout group from Venezia (Venice). One of them had even been to the World Jamboree three weeks ago. This group of eight scout and a leader are high school age and about half guy and half girls. They have just hiked and camped for three nights in the mountains south of here, near Mout Etna. They then spend three day at an international scout base in Milazzo, which they all said was great. But now they were headed home. They were sitting on the platform playing cards (a game like rummy) and a guitar and acting like scout and teenagers the world over. They almost missed their train because they were on the wrong platform and having too much fun.

Eventually our train arrived and we headed west. This is a local train with 26 stops. As we trundle along the northern coast on Sicily we are sharing our car with off duty railroad conductors, soccer fans, beach vendors with bags and racks of wares to sell, shoppers and everyone else who wants to go to Milazzo. After nearly four hours we arrive in Milazzo. The express train from Rome never caught up with us.

The information office at the train station is closed so we step out into the evening air and cross the Piazza Cesare and head down Via Roma, the main street of Palermo. We soon see a number of small hotels, and the farther we walk the nicer they appear. Eventually we turn towards the harbor and find ourselves in front of the "Ponte Hotel". They have two rooms and they even have a restaurant which is still serving! We have found a home in Palermo.

Map of Islands

Map of Northern Sicily

Our Terrace
Our Rooms
Pizza Terrance
Walk to the Beach
Leaving Stromboli
Scouts on a train

DAY 25 - Monday, August 27, 2007
Palermo & Mondello Beach

The morning is already hot, but Kristina and I step out of the hotel and explore the area around us. The boys have chosen to sleep in late this morning.

I have a little map from the hotel, and so he head south east to see the waterfront. The inner harbor is chocked with boats, and beyond that is a strip of parkland which is almost too hot to walk around. Inland a bit we come across a park where a banyan tree is growing. This is a tree which seems to have extra trunks or roots dripping from its branches.

We also find a Botanical Garden (Villa Giulia - Orto Botanico) which I like. We then wandered through back streets and stop at a cafe for a brioche and cappuccino. Kristina comments that this is a city of former grandar. "It is like some great civilation build this place and then abandoned it. And now there are squatters left who don't realy know how to maintain it." I agree with her. Finally we find an open information both, get a detailed map, and make a plan.

Back at the hotel the boys are ready to go so we head north to Mondello. Mondello is the breach suburb of Palermo. After lunch ("We do not have pizza!") we cross the white sands and go swimming. The water is warm and you can float for hours here. The beach itself is crowded, but we spend most of our time in the water anyhow.

There are thousand of little bathing houses, the size of tool sheds, which are lined up in neat rows and covering three quarters of the beach. We rent an umbrella and chair while we are there.

Eventually we had back to Palermo and then in the evening go out to eat. Our first stop is a cafe which Kristina and I saw in the morning. It specialized in a variety of hot chocolates. These hot chocolates are as thick as melted chocolate bars, and they are topped with various things. Robin had coconuts, Will had lemon and I had cinnamon and ginger.

After supper and an evening walk around the city it is back to the hotel and bed.

Map of Palermo Area

Mondello Beach
Hot Chocolate
Last Cafe
Square in Palermo

DAY 26 - Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Palermo - England - Stockholm

We have a 10:35 flight and so leave the hotel at 7:30. Our taxi flies down the highway at 140 kph (~85 mph) and we are early to the airport. Our check in and flight is eventless.

Since we are flying Ryan Air we pass through Stansted Airport near London. We have several hours to blow and it is early afternoon so I ask the lady at the information desk about local pubs. She recommends the "Three Horseshoes" in the town of "Molehill Green". Kristina ask at the taxi stand and they not only drive us there, but then promise to pick us up a few hours later.

The Three Horseshoes is a very old pub dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I. The ceiling droops and all the lines curve. We enjoy our meal and then watch worker trying to fix the duck house in the middle of the pond.

"And they speak English", as Robin pointed out. At one point they were some American pilots in the pub (we are near the airport), and between their thick southern/Texas accent and the English spoke by the barmaid it was not clear that it was the same language.

The flight to Stockholm was also eventless. We landed at Skavsta Airport, another small airport used by Ryan Air. It was then an hours bus ride to downtown Stockholm, and then one last taxi ride to our apartment.

It was 11:30 at night, but we were all hungry. The only food in the house is spaghetti (not pizza), and then to bed.