Thursday, April 30, 2015

Villa Romana del Casale

 As our time in Sicily would soon be drawing to an end; and the weather was beautiful; it was time for a little road trip.  Other than the 2 long drives to Palermo last October we had seen nothing of Sicily except Siracusa and Ragusa.  There was an ulterior motive, however.  An Italian friend and fellow Amel owner had brought back something from the USA for us.  We had ordered this item some time back but it was not shipped until after our return to Sicily last month.  Our friend had graciously offered to bring it back for us on his next trip to the USA.  He arranged with another friend to deliver this item to Siracusa.  We needed to drive to Siracusa to collect our well-traveled package.  These Italians are such nice people!!

Cathedral in Siracusa
Bill entered our destination address in Siracusa into the iPhone to provide driving directions. He did not check the route -- as long as we got there it did not matter from which direction. Turned out that Google Maps directed us along the coastal road almost the entire way. This enabled us to see the town of Pozzalo which we had by-passed last September the day we sailed to Marina di Ragusa to dock for the winter.  We did not find this town to be anything special, just a typical commercial port town.  But the sea views were spectacular and we enjoyed the long drive.  

It was a surprise when we passed through Noto (pronounced Notto).  Noto is the hometown for the doctor who treated Bill's injured leg last autumn.  He had told us that we must visit this town as it is famous for being the most beautiful town in Sicily.   From what I found online, Noto is famous for its Baroque architecture.  Since 2002 it has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  According to UNESCO:

Generally listed as one of the 'must-see' tourist attractions of this part of Sicily, Noto is a pleasant and attractive little town, with a historic centre that is composed almost entirely of crumbling Baroque palaces, churches and houses. The town's striking architectural coherence is due to the major earthquake that struck Sicily in 1693. The old town of Noto was almost completely destroyed, and it was decided to to reconstruct a splendid new town several miles away. Thus Noto was rebuilt on its present site, carefully designed for functionality and architectural harmony.
The principal tourist activity in Noto is simply a wander around the narrow streets, admiring the golden-coloured stone buildings, the fantastical facades and balconies.

I found the town to be pretty but not prettier or more special than the old town of Siracusa situated on the small island where we had visited briefly last September.  The architecture of old town Siracusa had blown me away.  And still does.

We arrived in Siracusa on time and collected our parcel.  Thank you, thank you nice Italian guys for going out of your way to assist us.  There were plenty more hours of daylight left so we decided to continue onward to Piazza Armerina where there was an archaeological site of interest.  Piazza Armerina is located in the Erean Mountains in central inland Sicily, and Siracusa is located on the eastern coast.  About a 3 or 4 hour drive.  Easy peasy.

Cathedral in Piazza Armerina.
This is very high on the mountain, photo
does not indicate how hit it really is.
As we wound through the mountains after exiting the main highway I began to have the feeling that possibly Piazza Armerina was the mountain town that had the beautiful green domed church that we had admired high in the mountains when we had driven to Palermo. That dome in the old city high up on the mountainside had looked beautiful but we had no idea of the name of the place or how to get there.  Just a beautiful scene seen from the road which connected from the southern side of Sicily to the main highway running east to west to Palermo.  (There is only one main highway such on this on the island.)

Yes!  This was the place!  We spotted that green dome high in the mountains and wound round and round and up and up until suddenly there we were...right in the heart of the town. That green dome up so high is the Cathedral of Piazza Armerina.  This is a massive Baroque cathedral built in the 17th and 18th centuries at the site where previously stood a 15th century church.  Little remained of that 15th century church except a bell tower.  I am chagrinned to admit that we never made it to this cathedral.  But we enjoyed immensely gazing up at it from various areas of this mountain town as we walked around.

Piazza Armerina is one of the so-called Lombardic communes of Sicily.  The Lombards came to this area of Sicily about 900 years ago from the Lombardy region of far northwestern Italy, especially from Monferrato and Piacenza.  Genoa is located in this region.  The kings of Sicily encouraged the migration of Lombardi peoples to relocate in this region of Sicily for about 400 years.  The Lombards of Sicily are an ethnic and linguistic group speaking an isolated variety of Gallo-Italian dialects.  These are the so-called Gallo-Italic of Sicily.  The dialect here differs notably from that of the neighboring regions.

The reason for our visit here had nothing to do with that cathedral, beautiful as it might be.

Layout of the Villa Romana del Casale
This is a very large place. That straight light blue hallway on the right in this image measures
200 Roman feet long.  That is roughly 60 meters or 195 feet.

We were here for the mosaics!  

Exactly 37,674 square feet of floor mosaics to be precise. Plus wall mosaics and colorfully painted plaster walls.  All to be found in the Villa Romana del Casale.  This villa is one of the most luxurious of its kind.  The mosaics are well preserved due to an earthquake and landslide centuries past.  These mosaics are the finest in situ  which have been found to date anywhere in the Roman world.

Rather than bore readers with lots of details, here is a link that provides information about these mosaics and this sumptuous villa.

UNESCO information about Villa Romana del Casale

And here is a link to a video which I found somewhere on that site.  (Click the link and then click on the image of the mosaic to view video.)

UNESCO video about this villa

The video covers nicely what we saw except that today there are more wooden ceilings and wooden partial domes in several rooms of the villa.  According to the signs, when the villa was occupied the coffered ceilings would have been as depicted today. A concentrated effort is being made to restore the structure as closely to original as possible.

This place must have been extremely impressive during its heyday.  The owner was an important and very, very wealthy person.  Had to be.  Just to feed and clothe the servants or slaves required to maintain this residence would have required a fortune, not to mention the cost of construction.  We have seen a lot of mosaics in our travels in Turkey and were not sure that these would be worth the trip, but I am glad we came.  The mosaics are impressive but seeing the size and scale of this Roman villa is even more impressive.  At least for us.

Here are a few photos.  I am not posting very many because the linked video shows a number of the same ones I photographed.  By the way, there are signs everywhere stating "no cameras" or "no photography."  Obviously, flash photography is not allowed because the lights could further damage the mosaics.  But those signs are there to discourage tourists from inhibiting traffic movement of thousands of tourists who visit this place by holding people up while one takes a photo.  Because we were here at a time of year that there are extremely few tourists, there was no problem with me taking photos.  If it had been crowded, that would have been a different situation.  But with sparse numbers of visitors on the day we were there, the attendants did not care if I took photos, as long as no flash.

This large floor mosaic depicts the Circus Maximus of
Rome, on which a quadrigae is in progress.  The winning
charioteer  is being handed a palm leaf and a bag of coin.

Note the metal 'T' embedded
in the stone on this wall.
There were many of these.
Used to hold marble slabs onto
walls.  Metal was so rare that
many of the sites we visited
in Rome had been destroyed
just to reclaim these pieces
of metal to melt and re-use.

Large room floor mosaic scene of a hunt

Floor mosaic filled the room.  In upper left corner can see
what the floor scene was prior to being remodeled.
Maybe the purpose of this room was changed so it
required a new floor design.  Women exercised back then?

Think this was in the children's area of  home

Forgot what this was.  But had floor drains so must have
had a shallow pool inside the columns.  The mosaics
included many boats.

Note the wooden coffered ceiling and the wooden
'dome' at the end.  Supposedly, this was how
the ceilings were when the villa was constructed.

One of many circular rooms

The Villa Romano del Casale is situated a couple of miles outside the town or Piazza Armerina.  The villa is law down in a valley and the town is very high on the hilltops.  But one cannot see the villa from the town or see the town from the villa.  

Piazza Armerina is a picturesque town.  We enjoyed walking the old city to find a restaurant and then the long walk back to the hotel.  We were surprised to discover that at least at this time of year this town basically rolls up the sidewalks by 9 p.m.  That is very unusual in Italy. In little Marina di Ragusa the restaurants do not even start to get busy until at least 9 p.m.  Same was true in Rome.  Here the restaurants, except the one where we dined, were all closed by 9.  Very strange.  Maybe this early closing was because it is not yet tourist season.

We stayed at the Hotel Villa Romana and I would not recommend this hotel.  We were the only guests in the hotel.  Five floors of rooms and ours was the only room occupied. The manager and staff were very nice but it was not worth the price charged.  A very basic room and the air-conditioning did not work.  It was very cool outside and the windows opened.  But there was a lattice of some sort lined with a kind of plastic material which prevented any cool air from entering the room.  After one overly-warm night in the very cool mountain town, we were ready to move on.

Oh, yes!  The T.V. in our hotel room.  Almost forgot about that.  When we arrived it would not work.  After several tries the guy eventually found the right remotes and fresh batteries and finally got the T.V. to work.  Of course there were no English speaking channels but so what.  After we returned from dinner I turned on the television and spent the next hour enjoying the last half of the 1953 western movie 'Shane' starring Alan Ladd.  

Who would ever have thought we would be in the mountains of central Sicily and watching a 62-year-old American classic western Italian.

I loved it.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Another fishing tournament

Fishing competition along marina inner wall

Porto Turistico Marina di Ragusa is a popular place for local fishermen.  There have been numerous fishing tournaments hosted here during our stay.

Most times the entire dock wall from east to west is filled with competing fishermen.  Today was a small turnout which did not fill even just the eastern wall.  

Usually there are tables filled with trophies which are handed out after the fish which have been caught are weighed and measured.

But all of the guys out there looked like they were enjoying themselves.   And, make no mistake, these fishermen are always guys; not a gal to be found among them.  Apparently, women do not fish in Sicily.

I am intrigued by the rigs used by these guys.  Was not familiar with these 'chairs' and all their intricacies, but then maybe this is something more common with serious lake fisherman back home and I know nothing about any type of freshwater fishing. .

A couple of those fancy fishing chairs

Each 'chair' provides a seating space and usually has arm rests.  It will have an attachment on which to mount a net basket to hang down into the water, I assume to hold caught fish.  There will be a place for the container of bait.  Beneath the seat will be a cooler which will have a separate closed top section that holds spare fishing line and bits which might be needed for spares for their rods and reels.  There often will also be a holder to accommodate several fishing rods so that they can have as many lines in the water at one time as possible.  And all this will have counter-balance weights to prevent the chair tipping over if the fisherman rises too quickly.  These things are designed and engineered quite impressively. 

These guys are fishing along the inner wall of the marina.  My last blog posting mentioned the 4 underwater fresh water springs which are located in that area.  So the water is slightly less salty than the water found elsewhere in the area.  Maybe that encourages more fish to the diluted water?  I would not think so but what the heck do I know about it.  (And do not care enough to attempt to research this topic; feel free to do so if you are so inclined.)
Wall east of the main pontoon lined with fishermen.  At far right are steps leading up to main road.  The low flat
roofed building is the Stella Marina bar and restaurant where Happy Hour is held twice weekly.  
It is operated by some very nice and very hard-working folks.  The food menu consists of only panini
 sandwiches and french fries, all at very reasonable prices.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fresh water springs and the Goodbye Party

6 April 2015
Yesterday was Easter Sunday.  One of the Dutch boaters in the marina announced on the VHF net yesterday that the town would have a 'parade' of sorts in celebration of Easter.  Supposedly they carry a coffin around the narrow winding streets as part of this Easter celebration.  She said the whole town participates and it would be interesting.  But we were too lazy to walk down to the town square so we missed it.  In honesty, we missed it for a couple of reasons.   We had no idea what time of day this 'parade of coffin' would occur.  It was a beautiful sunny day with still more wind than we would have liked.  That wind was really the reason we did not seek out that coffin parade.  It was far more pleasant to stay inside the boat.  This middle area of the Med sure is a windy place!  At least during winter and early spring, maybe it is calmer here during summer months; but we will never know because we will be long gone from here by then.  Three boats have already departed to start sailing season early.  It is still much too windy and cold for us but each day does seem ever-so-slightly warmer.  

This morning on the marina liveaboard VHF net 2 people announced that their folding bikes had been stolen overnight from the main center dock.  Apparently neither was locked, according to the owners.  Bill suggested that the habit of tying the gate open rather than keeping it locked might have contributed to these thefts, but his idea was poo-pooed by the net controller.  We all have transponders to gain access to the showers and toilets and to the gate that is supposed to control access to the docks.  The gate is supposed to remain locked but many of the bike riders like to tie that gate in open position so they can more easily ride back and forth.  I would prefer the gate remain locked to discourage local teenaged kids from coming onto the docks where our boats are berthed and where dozens of bicycles are kept on the docks.  But, hey, we don't own bikes so not our problem.  We leave nothing out to tempt theft. 

7 April 2015
The wind laid down overnight so early this morning we got the genoa back onto its foil.  It was so much easier to do in this 60F temperature than when we have had to do it in 85F.  I will be glad to have that sail bag out of the forward cabin where it has taken up so much space.  We bought a new bimini from Amel but we will continue to use the old one for a while longer and save the new one for later.  The new one needs zippers added to make installation on the frames easier.  Maybe we can find a canvas guy to add zippers when we do the routine haul-out next month in Malta. 

Note the 3 pale tan spots sanded smooth by our fenders

Fender board now in place
We had removed the fender covers when BeBe was moved to this berthing spot just before we left for the winter.  We were afraid that the fenders would rub the dock and destroy the fabric fender covers.  Turned out to be the right decision.  As you can see from this photo, our 3 fenders 'sanded' the wooden side of the dock smooth in a few places.  You can tell by the lighter color of the wood. Those fenders have much thinner sides now due to the rubbing motion all winter. We should have put up the fender board before we left for the winter to save wear and tear on the fenders.  It is up now though. (Now that it is no longer needed.)

When we moved the dinghy stowed on the foredeck in order to raise the genoa, we discovered that the hypalon tubing was rubbed raw in several places from the high winds all winter causing the dinghy to move slightly against the textured coach roof, even though it was securely tied tightly down with 3 lines.  Wore a hole in one tiny spot and roughed up the texture in numerous places.  That poor dinghy looks every day of its 12-year+ life span.  It truly looks sad.  We have always stowed the dinghy on the foredeck during winters and never had a problem of any kind doing so.  Just shows how nasty the winter winds are in this particular area of the Med.

8 April 2015
The marina diver was in the water for another boat this morning so Bill asked him to come to our boat when he finished there.  What a deal that turned out to be!  Instead of the usual minimum hour for 90 Euros, the diver charged us only 40 Euros for the half-hour that he cleaned our prop.  And he found a line wrapped around the prop and removed it!  That would have been a rude surprise when we leave the dock in a few weeks.  That line would have prevented the blades on our Auto-Prop from opening and spinning, resulting in not being able to propel the boat just when needed most in the confines of the marina.  Very thankful to the diver for his work this morning in the very cold water beneath our boat.

15 April 2015
Today was outboard day.  Last August or September when in Mljet, Croatia, our outboard quit.  After removing and inspecting lower unit and middle unit, we discovered that the allen key for the impeller had completely disappeared.  So Bill fabricated a key from a stainless steel bolt.  He ordered every part imaginable for that outboard while we were in Texas and we brought back bags of parts.  Today we once again disassembled the lower unit to replace the impeller, add correct rings and gaskets and replace the caveman key made from a bolt with the correct key.  All done and works like a charm once again. 

3 underwater springs.  Can you spot them?

2 of the springs are aligned with that stick marker between
them.  The 3rd is over at right edge of photo.

Marina di Ragusa has pretty clean water.  Much cleaner than most marinas this age.  I talked with the women in the office about this one day and was told that there are 3 underwater fresh water springs inside the marina that help keep the water so clean.  

A closer look at the 3rd spring which is closest to the dock.

Obvious 4th spring on western side of marina

One can easily see the 3 springs that the office staff mentioned.  These 3 springs are located on the eastern side of the main pontoon dock in the inner harbor area. 

These are small springs; nothing like the one we saw in Greece that was well over 100-ft diameter with very distinct edges. That one was really cool! 

Seriously!  How could we not have seen this spring earlier!
But there also is a 4th underwater fresh water spring.  I did not see this 4th spring when we were here in the autumn; I noticed this one right after our return arrival last month.  It also is located in the inner harbor area but on the far western side, opposite side from the marina office in the small boat docking area.  It is a 1/4 mile round-trip walk from our boat to the toilets and showers which are situated on the far western wall near where we were first docked, and we walk right past this spring daily.  

One day when the winds were relatively calm and waters flat inside the marina, this underwater spring was very noticeable.  

Since first noticing it, I cannot believe we had not noticed it earlier.   

Actually kind of hard to miss it.

Beginning to set up for B-B-Q

Last Saturday the marina hosted a 'Goodbye Barbeque' for all the yachties berthed here. They really did it up right, as we might say in Texas.  They set up on the ultra-wide main floating dock.  The big umbrellas were much appreciated on this sunny day.  (Although I still managed to burn a bit because it is so early in the season and we are still winter pale.)

Beer keg under this umbrella. It was the most popular
place on the dock.  Until about midnight!

Tables were set up for the food; even had fresh flowers on the tables.  

A keg of beer along with bartender to man the keg.  

Wine served and poured freely.  Along with bottles of water for those who did not imbibe.  

Almost finished setting up.  Just add the tables & chairs.

The marina provided the meats for barbeque as well as several other types of foods, including beautiful little pastries.  Everything was delicious.

Our contributions for the event were a couple batches of brownies to share, one batch made from Cadbury's cocoa and one batch from Italian cocoa.  The Italian cocoa is far superior!  Much darker and stronger rich flavor than the tasteless Cadbury's.  Also baked some cranberry/oatmeal bars to share, a new recipe that I will be baking again as these were surprisingly tasty and I have a few more bags of dried cranberries and plenty of pecans that I brought back from Texas.  And I made some deviled eggs to share.  Figured these things did not require cutlery or plates so would be easy to eat at a barbeque on the dock.

Judy chatting; having a good time

A great time was had by all, I think.  I talked for hours with a lovely woman from Cambridge. She taught English in Cambridge and now is teaching English as a personal tutor to the man who is in charge of this marina.  She introduced us to Julio.  I am not certain of his title but he is the man in charge of everything at this marina complex.  A nice man and his English already is good enough for conversation.

Had a good turn-out!

The marina surprised us by distributing door prizes.  I think there were 4 door prizes, the least of which was a dinner for 2 at the marina restaurant.  The second prize was 300 Euro discount on berthing here next winter season.  And first prize was 500 Euro discount on a haul-out here.  First Prize was won by Mario on Maltese Falcon. Those were some really nice door prizes!!  Many thanks to Julio!

And a great time was enjoyed by all.  Good food;
plenty to drink; and enjoyable conversation.
Photo taken from our mizzen deck.
At one point when people were beginning to clean up I was shocked to see a woman from one of the boats berthed here scrape food off a plate into the water!  I do not know who she was; but she was a yachtie and not an employee of the marina.  This absolutely shocked me; not surprised but shocked!  One does not throw food into the water in a marina.  How could anyone do that!!  We do not even pour the liquid from a used jar of pickles down the galley sink into the water in a marina.  So to see someone scraping parts of sandwiches and other partially eaten food directly into the water was positively shocking.  Please do not do this!  Marina waters get filthy fast enough without deliberately throwing garbage into the sea.  And do not think, "oh, I'm just feeding the fish" as that is not what you are doing; you are disposing of garbage into the sea.  

As noted previously in this blog posting, this particular marina has those fresh water springs and these help keep down marine growth on boat bottoms and propellers.  The clean water of this marina is one of its best assets.  Please do not throw garbage into the sea when within 12 NM of land as per international law.  Within 3 NM is okay only if the garbage is ground into particles less than 1-inch in size.  

The 3 parts of AeroPress coffee maker
On a few of the online sailing forums there have been discussions of what is the best coffee maker to have on a cruising sailboat.  Based on numerous glowing recommendations, I purchased an AeroPress while we were in Houston over the winter.  This is basically a tiny 3-part plastic device that makes individual cups of brewed coffee.  One places either a paper filter (required for the ultra-fine ground coffee sold here in Italy) or a metal disk filter (works well with normal grind versions of coffee sold elsewhere) into the tiny bottom part and screws it onto the main part.  Then spoon coffee into the top.  Place device over a coffee cup and pour in boiling water.  After 10 seconds, insert the plunger piece into the top section and press down to force any remaining water through the coffee grounds.  This is supposed to make up to 4 cups of espresso-level strong coffee.  For American style coffee, just add boiling water to each poured cup to desired strength.

This little contraption does make surprisingly good coffee.  Bill and I each drink one large mug of coffee each morning.  This little AeroPress makes exactly 2 large mugs following the process I described in the previous paragraph.  Having the used coffee grounds pressed into a small disk also makes for easy clean-up, something always appreciated in a boat galley.  I would recommend the AeroPress to any sailor looking for an easy way to make really good coffee.

Plunger section in place.
Be careful about that.
Just be sure you are awake and thinking clearly when you make that coffee.  One morning Bill let me sleep late and he made coffee.  Then he awakened me asking where I had put the top plunger part.  He had already taken the entire galley apart twice searching for it before he woke me up.  I looked in the normal places and still could not find it.  And then I looked at the AeroPress sitting on top of a coffee mug...with the water NOT dripping down into the mug.  Uh-oh!  Something was wrong.  Turned out that Bill had inserted the paper filter and screwed on the bottom piece.  Then put in a large scoop of grounds into the top and added the boiling water.  Except that the plunger section was in place!  So he had mistakenly added the coffee grounds and boiling water to the inside of the plunger section rather than into the main section.  

That water was not going to ever drip down into that mug.  

Poured it all out and started over the correct way.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Another one of those things that I love about Amels

Yesterday, I tried to help someone with a refrigeration problem on a name-brand yacht. I was unable to get to the Danfoss compressor controller to do basic tests. The access panel the yacht builder provided was not big enough to get my hands through. I think that you probably remember my write-up on how to access the Amel refrigerator on a Super Maramu. One thumb nut and slide the entire thing out!

Today, our VHF radio suddenly quit. A check of the voltage, reflected no current going to the radio. The Sailor 6216 VHF radio is only about two years old.


I went to the DC-DC 24V to 12V Sailor transformers which I could access by removing two thumb nuts. They are mounted on a finished piece of mahogany plywood, with a long enough pigtail to set the entire thing on the nav-station stool. I noted the spare fuses Amel placed on the case of the first transformer, in case a fuse is blown. This is inside a fabric lined locker behind a mahogany door beneath the the door, remove two thumb nuts and pull the entire thing out to check fuses. Amel, yes...other boats, HA!

I opened the transformer labeled VHF. I found the fuse to be fine, but one of the power leads to the terminal-block was loose. The screw was tight and the wire-end properly soldered, but apparently when this was installed at Amel, the technician did not insert the wire-end under the screw before tightening. Clearly a mistake, but also easy to find and easy to fix.  I secured the wire and tested everything...OK. It took me a total of 5 minutes from start to finish. WOW!

Henri Amel is no longer with us, but the culture he instilled at the Amel yard will last forever...I hope! None quite like it!