April-May 2005 in Italy and Malta

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April 17-22 Rome
Arrival in Rome,
Tourists in Rome

April 22-24 Bay of Naples

April 24-27 Capri

April 27-29 Amalfi to Maratea
Amalfi Coast and Paestum,

April 29-May 3 Sicily
To Sicily,
Sicily (Taormina)
Mosaics at Villa Imperiale di Casale,
Valley of the Temples,

May 3-6 On Malta
Blue Grotto and Temples
Valetta and Archaeological Museum,
Exhibits in Archaeological Museum
Hypogeum, Gozo and Ggantija,
Tarxien and Clapham Junction

May 6-7 Sicily, Scilla and Charybdis

May 7-8 Tropea (Capo Vaticano)

May 8-10 Puglia
Matera, Grotto, Trulli of Alberobello

May 10-12 Abruzzi National Park

May 12 Tivoli, Villa Adriana


Return to Sicily

Coastal breakers, and cloudscapes.

As we crossed the Sicilian coast, we could see the wind-driven breakers along the beaches, but after that, the clouds built up. Live, they were often very beautiful, but it's hard to capture that in still pictures from a plane. Nevertheless...

When we came to land in Catania, the direction was exactly opposite to the take-off. We came in over the sea from the east, somewhat across the wind direction. The sea was very interestingly patterned by the wind, but because of the very bumpy ride, I couldn't take any pictures of it. Getting back through customs and immigration was easy, but when we arrived at the long-term parking lot, I couldn't find the parking ticket we got when we arrived. It took a lot of hand-waving interaction with people with whom I didn't share a language, before we were allowed to pay the correct fee and exit the parking area. Everyone was very helpful, but the problem was to convey the correct information in both directions.

As soon as we left the airport precinct, we saw lots of police cars waiting by the roadside at each intersection. There were several on the road, too. I can only guess why they were there. Were they awaiting some major crime figure who was expected to arrive by air? Were they looking for smugglers? Anyway, apart from arousing our curiosity, they didn't bother us, and we had an uneventful trip through a heavy shower back to Giardini-Naxos.

We had arranged to stay one night at the same hotel in Giardini-Naxos before starting our northward journey through Italy back to Rome airport. We arrived there around dusk, but there was enough light to take another picture of the spur crowned by Taormina. The next morning, we decided to wander around Taormina for a while before heading north. Those pictures are on the Taormina page.

Scilla and Charybdis

The Strait of Messina

The day's trip took us past Messina, around the northeastern corner of Sicily back to Messina for the ferry to the mainland, and then along the coast road (mostly avoiding the autostrada) to Capo Vaticano near Tropea. The weather was appreciably better, but there was still low cloud, and when we crossed to the north coast of Sicily over a ridge, we popped into and out of it. But first, we had a good overview of the Strait of Messina with its complement of ferries to Villa San Giovanni.

The old saying "Between Scylla and Charybdis" has the same implication as "Between a rock and a hard place", two equally undesirable alternatives. In mythology, Scylla and Charybdis were monsters, or Scylla was a rock and Charybdis a whirlpool. Here's part of what Wikipedia has to say: "Traditionally, the location of Charybdis has been associated with the Strait of Messina off the coast of Sicily, opposite the rock called Scylla. The whirlpool there is caused by the meeting of currents, but is seldom dangerous. Recently scholars have looked again at the location and suggested this association was a misidentification and that a more likely origin for the story could be found near Cape Skilla in north west Greece."

Looking from the Charybdis point across toward Scilla. The flat beach of the "Charybdis" point. The "Charybdis" point with its huge tower. The little specks are 2 and 3 story houses.

I'm happy to pretend that the Strait of Messina was correct. Scilla is indeed a rock, having that name even now. However, on the Sicilian side, the shoreline is a very long. narrow, flat, sandy point, of the kind that is caused by a consistent long-shore current or the meeting of two such currents. Presumably this sandy point has built up over the centuries. It suggests the existence of a seaward extension in the form of a shallow sand-bar. If it doesn't now have that kind of extension, it could well have done a couple of thousand years ago, where the dry sand point is now. Sailors would have wanted to avoid being dashed onto the Scilla rocks, or being stranded on the shoals of the extension of the Sicilian point. If there is indeed a whirlpool near the mouth of the strait, as the Wikipedia article says is the case, navigation to avoid those two dangers could have been rather difficult. Currents ordinarily follow the direction of the prevailing wind, which in this case would mean that ships intending to pass southward through the straits would have been sailing against the wind, something ships of the classical era were not very good at. Couple that with the likelihood of the kind of fog we saw, and navigation through the strait must have been extremely hazardous a lot of the time. Fog, swirling winds, and a whirlpool would make it very hard for the sailors even to know what direction they were going.

The rock of Scilla , with a cloudbank driven by the onshore wind. The coast east of Scilla from the castle on the rock.

After we crossed the strait, we ignored the autostrada, and took the coast road to Scilla. There is a castle on the rock of Scilla, which we visited. It was not very large or interesting, but it presumably was an important guardian of the strait in much of the last millenium. The town seems to be popular with sunseekers, judging by the number of beachfront hotels and restaurants. We were not concerned with either, as we were intending to stay the night in Capo Vaticano, near Tropea.

From Scilla, the secondary road we were using rises high above the sea, and we were frequently in the cloud, travelling at little over walking pace so as to be able to see the edge of the twisting road. Sometimes the road would dip under the cloud base, which was a great relief, but then it would rise back into the cloud again. Not the most delightful drive! Eventually, however, we returned to lower ground, and to the autostrada, which we took for several kilometres until the exit for Capo Vaticano.