Winter 2020/21

Drive back to Sicily

We were having such lovely weather in Greece and happy that we had an extra week there, the apartment was very spacious with balconies overlooking a small park and the town quay to one side and the rooftops of the town from the other.

The town was rebuilt after the devastating 1825 earthquake. The ground floor of the houses were built in stone and the upper storeys with a wooden construction with supports which transfer the load directly to the foundations of the building and not to the stone walls. The upper storeys were clad with plaster boards, or in later years, with cheaper corrugated iron. Many still have the corrugated iron today and with each house being painted in different colours (in various states of repair), it gives the town its unique character.

Luckily Greece had not yet gone into lockdown so the shops, cafes and bars were all open, the town was busy if you visited in the mornings and evenings…

However, it was like a ghost town in the afternoon, everywhere was shut and there was nobody to be seen. They obviously take siesta time very seriously.

Many of the popular tourist cafes and bars look out over the water of a large natural lagoon, one of the largest wetlands of Western Greece.

We took a walk around it, much of it was through sand dunes and beaches with a couple of lively beach bars, (unfortunately they had run out of ice cream).

There was plenty to see along the way, old derelict windmills, fish farms, and a lot of wildlife, birds, ducks, swans and we came across a flock of pink flamingos.

Once we had completed the 7 mile circuit, we ended up back on the promenade for a well deserved cocktail.

We managed to fit in one more walk during our time here, there is the old medieval castle of Santa Maura at the entrance to the island next to the floating bridge. We have been past it many times by boat when we’ve passed through the bridge but never had the chance to visit before.

It is on a site of 25,000 square meters and has been besieged 12 times in 7 centuries, making it one of the most besieged fortresses of the Ionian. First constructed in 1302 as a small military fort, it was rebuilt and expanded many times over the years. Inside the castle grounds was the city of Santa Maura which was the capital of the island. In the 16th Century the castle fell into the hands of the Ottomans who carried out further extensive expansion for defence, and to accommodate the growning population. After the work, the castle took on its heptagonal shape that it still has today, included in the build was 200 houses, three mosques, two baths and two schools. It was a major defence for their western borders and was equipped with 126 cannons, many of which are still scattered around the grounds.

The Venetians seized the castle in the 17th Century and decided to expand the garrison so as a result the local residents were evicted and had to rebuild their city in its current location now known as Lefkas Town. The castle continued to be besieged until the 19th Century when the Ionian was unified with Greece and the site was occupied by Greek Armed Forces. By the early 20th Century it had limited military value and in 1938 the materials of the buildings, bastions and walls were offered for sale to support the Hellenic Army Pension fund.

We were lucky to be the only visitors at the time, having a chance to visit without the crowds helped to capture the atmosphere of the site and its location.

During our last few days in Greece, Italy was starting to introduce lockdowns in some regions, we were beginning to worry whether staying the extra week was a good decision.

Thankfully by the end of the week, the Italian regions which we planned to drive through, Puglia and Calabria, were still allowing people to travel, so we set off to Igoumenitsa for the ferry to Brindisi in Italy. The journey north to Igoumenitsa took just over 1 hour, when we arrived the immigration officials checked all of our paperwork, but before allowing the car through the gates, they wanted to search it. We had managed to fit our empty top box inside the car as we were not carrying lots of luggage for this trip, and they wanted to look inside it, this was easier said than done as it was wedged in quite tight. Many cars were being searched to ensure that people were not being smuggled into Italy. On reflection, we could understand why they might be interested in a car where it appeared that the back seats had been removed to enable a large (adult sized) top box to be squeezed inside.

Once they were happy, (although a little confused why the top box was inside the car) they allowed us on to the ferry, it was a big ship but with hardly any passengers and social distancing rules in place, the bars and restaurants on board were closed. The journey was 8 hours, one of the bars did open for an hour so that we could get a cup of coffee but we had no food for the journey other than a roll and some biscuits that we had bought with us just in case!

We arrived in Italy and drove through customs, once we had assured them that we hadn’t travelled through Romania, the port officers here were only interested in how many euros we had with us, luckily we must have given them the correct answer as they waved us straight through. We had booked into a hotel in Brindisi next to the port, our plan was to have dinner in the hotel then have an early night so that we were ready for the long drive the following day. Unfortunately, upon arrival they informed us that they do not open the restaurant at the weekend, and as there was nothing else close by, it was a bottle of wine and some crisps for dinner.

The following day, we had breakfast (thankfully the hotel provided this) and set off to drive from the east coast to the west coast of Italy. Bridges and tunnels took us through the cloudy mountains to Villa San Giovanni.

The car was making some noises but complained the most if the road was bumpy or when we turned left so we chose a route which was mainly via straight motorways and hoped that we only needed to go right (this was a bit tricky at roundabouts!)

After 6 hours driving the journey had been fairly uneventful on good roads that were exceptionally quiet, and we arrived at the car ferry for the short 20 minute crossing to Messina in Sicily.

We disembarked in Sicily for the last leg of the journey where we had a further 3 hours drive straight to the marina. It had been a long day driving with only two quick stops for toilets and petrol and not much food to eat all day, we were looking forward to dinner when we arrive. Luckily the boat is always well stocked with pasta.

We made it back to ZigZag just before dark, with another lovely sunset to finish the day.

4 replies on “Drive back to Sicily”

Very envious of the fabulous weather, stunning scenery and beautiful blue skies. I really enjoy your weekly travelogue. Lovely photos as always. Glad to see that you are still able to cross borders with relative ease in these challenging times. Best Wishes.

Liked by 2 people

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