Friday, July 10, 2009

Sailing and exploring the island of Elba, Italy - June 2009

Sailing. It's simply awesome. There's nothing more peaceful than being on the water, the rumbling motor off, with a good wind and full sails, just gliding along with no set agenda. This is the second time we've had the fortunate and unique opportunity to sail with my good friend, Jaap. Because he is a certified sailor, or captain, he's able to charter sailboats himself; meaning we don't have to hire a crew to sail us around, which also means very low costs for what is usually an expensive activity, and complete freedom on the boat. In Europe, there are several companies which rent out sailboats from various ports and this year's trip started in the port of Follonica, Italy. Destination: the island of Elba. For you history buffs, you will know it as the island to which Napolean was exiled for a couple of years. En route to Elba, we also passed by the island of Monte Cristo. (Note: the boat pictured above is the boat we sailed on; Aulona, was her name. Sleeps 8 people.)

The added special bonus of sailing is that you can reach uninhabited islands and secluded, less populated locations that you often cannot reach without a boat. We often anchored offshore and swam to the beach (sometimes to find that wearing bathing suits was not the norm)! What a nice workout! I am so thankful to have had this opportunity again and am thinking of taking formal classes to learn how to sail myself. Thanks, Jaap!

Elba. It's a gorgeous, rugged island with the most friendly locals that I've encountered anywhere. At bars and restaurants, the locals spoiled us with freebies. Now, in many places around Europe and elsewhere, staff will offer you a digestif or something supposedly on the house, but it then shows up on the bill. Not here. The bar and restaurant staff/owners at 4 different places showered us with melon wrapped in prosciutto, battered shrimp, meat platters, fruit bowls, a bottle of muscat, and more! Unbelievable. Typically, in such smaller, traditional towns, the villagers are a little "anti-outsider", but we didn't get this feeling whatsoever. It was fab. These handouts may also be, in part, due to the abundance of these yummy foods on the island, but perhaps also due to the fact that there seem to be few tourists in Elba.

The island is full of rustic, delapidated buildings that I just LOVE, as you will notice from my numerous photos of the subjects. There is something about the old, colorful doors, red-tiled houses, steps, and bougainvillea-adorned buildings and fences, that I am intrinsically drawn to. There is a sweet charm to these scenes. This island is not special in that, given that these characteristics describe many old villages and cities throughout southern Europe.
In truth, many of these rustic buildings are actually falling apart due to lacking funds and priority to maintain them. You will rarely come across such delapidated places in northern Europe (also due to a difference in architecture and climate). Regardless, these old, lovely places make for great photos :) I can honestly say that, if I ever live in a climate which supports bougainvillea, they will also adorn my home :) I simply love them and think they are one of the things in the world, which epitomizes simple 'beauty'.

So, here are the rest of my photos from the week-long trip
. We didn't get as much sailing time in as on our Spanish sailing tour in 2007, primarily due to uncooperative weather/winds, but the trip was great nevertheless. Also, FYI, there are a few photos in the beginning from Pisa and a few in the end from Florence. I was in Florence in 2002, so I hardly took any this time.

See also the short video below for a bit of the smoother sailing! Arno was steering the boat in this video.

For anyone visiting Italy, I highly recommend Elba and, in particular, Portoferraio (also where Napolean's domicile is). You can take a ferry to Elba from the port of Piombino, just south of Pisa (there are regular trains from Pisa to Piombino).