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Trip Report The Aeolian Islands May 2012

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Palermo was the starting point of our journey to the Aeolian Islands. O'Scia B&B was chosen for its strategic location near the Stazione Centrale. Plane, Bus, train and boat were the means of transport to reach the islands. Ryanair was on time and yes, you get what you pay. The shuttle bus from airport to Stazione Centrale is stationed few steps on the right side of the airport exit. 6,10 euro per person, paid to the driver. We will have a full day in Palermo on our return so we just found a place for a dinner and went to bed. Our room was spacious and clean, and breakfast tasty and filling. Oner told us not to rely too heavily on the train schedule; we decided to take the 9:10 local to Milazzo but found the 8:05 express still waiting at the station. We boarded it, and when he finally departed 15 min later, we were the only satisfied customers on board. The rest of the crowd expresses their unhappiness in typical italian fashion: loud words and meaningful hand signs. Two and a half hour later the train arrived at the small station above Milazzo, where a bus has to be taken to the port. Don't worry, there is only one bus stop for only one bus line and this ione is directly to the port (btw, it is no.5). There is a schedule posted stating that the is a bus every 30 -45 min. Only 10 min later we arrived at the port. On one side of the street there are offices of the ferry companies. We opted for Siremar; first departure was already sold out so we had an hour to browse the nearby shops and to take a coffee and a canoli. Do not miss the canoli!

LIPARI
Another hour and half on the aliscafo (hydrofoil boat) and we arrived on the island of Lipari with its town of the same name. The Castello with cathedral of St.Bartholomew is dominating this lovely town full of narrow alleys, small shops, bars and restaurants. Main street is Corso V.Emanuelle and is partly pedestrians only. Our home base for next four nights (and three full days) was Hotel Borgo Eolie. Positined 30 min from the castello, this is a newly built hotel, with all the amenities a guest is looking for (minus the wifi yet this supposed to be on top of to do list). Owner Francesco and his wife are running an attractive and very homely small hotel. They are always around but never intrusive. Francesco and his minivan are always ready to drive guests to or from the town. Yet walking slowly it is not a difficult uphill stroll; and also after a late dinner we have a very safe feeling walking back to the hotel.
Castello with its museums was our morning destination on our first full day. Since the season has not started yet the place was almost empty and having a sunny day also the museum was visited only by a few visitors. The exhibition is interesting, covering a wide timespan from neolithic to modern times. A lot of artefacts recovered from under the earth or under the sea are on display. It took us three hours to browse the rooms. Lipari is the only island that has a road that circumnavigates it, so we decided to rent a car and explore it. There are many businesses renting scooters and cars and many of them are waiting for clients in the port. The renting itself is easy; after inspecting the car and negotiating the price the rental agreement was signed on the hood of the car. No CDW or LDW or other extra was offered, just a small deposit and off we drove. All vehicles have Third Party Insurance so a renter is covered if he made damage to another vehicle. Shell gas station is always the first stop. 20 euro bill will give you around 10 l of unleaded, and since the round road is 42 km, we were OK for two rounds. Started counterclockwise the first town was Canneto with its long black pebble beach. This is a really long beach and in the summer it is full of tourists - now only a few of them were scattered around. There is a small square with place to park the car and several restaurants and coffee bars. An espresso and a lemon granita later we continued towards Capo Rosso with its abandoned pumice production plants. The white mountain is a sight for sure. Acquacalda is next village, also with a black beach but much smaller then Canneto. In between there are several so-called white beaches reachable by boat or by narrow path down from the main road. Driving uphill toward Quattropani there are nice views over to Salina where a regatta was on. Quite a sight with almost 50 sailing boats cruising in between the two islands. After a widespread inland settlement of Pianoconte there is an obligatory stop at Quattrocchi where a viewpoint allows for fantastic photos over the ragged coast of Lipari with the crater of Vulcano and, weather permitting, Etna as a background. Best time to be there is around 5 pm. Another phenomenal viewpoint is at Observatorio. Its position allows for direct views almost into the crater, and in early May, Etna covered in snow was as majestic as a volcano can be.
Or second full dayon Lipari was Sunday. Late breakfast and then we took our car around the island one more time, now in the clockwise direction. Afterone more stop at Quattroocchi (just to confirm that late afternoon is the right time to be there) we decided to check therme San Calogero, dated back to Greeks. Wewere surprised to find them almost deserted. The fence to the ancient part of therme was locked and the big building nearby abandoned. Luckily an older couple of locals were selling their malvasia wine there and asit happens so many times, they were more then happy to show us around, after smiles and greetings in italian were exchanged. The history and remains were fascinating along with our impromptu guide stories. A greek part and a roman part are easily visible over the low fence, and we took also a short stroll on the old roman road. Nobody but us was there so we took our time and enjoyed the place. The hot water is known for its therapeutical benefits. Strange that at present, the hotel and spa is closed. Back on the road we took many stops, most of them right on the road itself which was almost deserted. Many pictures later we arrived at Canneto for a lunch, and after returning thecar, we have had time for another visit to the castello and the cathedral. Most memorable part of the cathedral is the monastery, reachable from inside the cathedral. If you ask a tomb of a crusader will be pointed for you.
Our last fll day was dedicated to the visit of the island Vulcano. Hiking to the crater is the most important thing you can do. Should be one hour up and one hour down, but we spent four and a half hours there. Having a good hiking boots is important, as much as starting this hike as early as possible. Even in beginning of May, it was hot around midday. The aliscafo tooks 10 min from Lipari, for the price of 5,50 €. The activities are those of fumaroles and sulphur gases can be annoying at times. Bright yellow deposits are interesting though, and around fumaroles extravagant photos can be taken. Another place to visit on a one day excursion to Volcano is the mud abth, a large pool of hot water mixed with mud. It contains high level of radioactive radon so read carefully the disclaimer at the entrance. On our way back to Lipari we used nave, a ferry boat, which is slower but also less expensive (4,70 €) and is offering nice views from its open decks.
A number of restaurants from simple pizza a taglio to gourmet dinning is available. Choosing one is not difficult and they all will prepare pasta and fresh seafood dishes.
Below the line Lipari offered a great introduction to Aeolian archipelago, insight into its history and present days living. It is the best home base for daily excursions to other islands with its wide array of accommodations and eating establishments which caters for all tastes and budgets.

STROMBOLI
Stromboli has what I was looking on Aeolian islands. A volcano you can count on, active for many thousand years without interruption. I knew that the hike to the top is a must, thus we have dedicated two nights for Stromboli.
We took ferry from Lipari. With 4 hours it is much slower then the hydrofoil but for us, moving from point A to point B is an integral part of travel. Siremar ferry had three decks with many benches on open, and also seats inside. It was a sooth sailing from Lipari to Salina to Panarea and to Ginostra part of Stromboli before we got embarked in the village of Stromboli. It was fun watching the activity at each port, and high decks of the ferry gaves us plenty of opportunities to take photos of island. If ferry is an option in your itinerary take it. Not only cheaper but above all much more interesting ride.
Our Hotel Miramare is positioned in Ficogrande area, some 15 min walk from the port if taking the longer but easier road along the beach. It was opened in 1928 but just looking at it one would never know. Built in the classic Aeolian way many of its rooms have terraces with chairs and tables and great view towards the strangely shaped island of Strombolichio. Rooms are spacious and clean. No pool but just steps below is one great looking black sand beach. The water was crystal clear but too cold for me. Maybe already in June it is warm enough due to all black sand and stones that accumulates the power of sun during the day.
There is no road on Stromboli and no cars. All transport of good and people are done by threewheelers like Ape or Piaggio, an occasional golf cart and a lot of scooters. Sometimes the alleys are so narrow you wonder how the small Ape can squeeze through. One such, transformed into a personnel carrier came for us from hotel. Once shown to our room we rest for a while on the terrace admiring the views then went to the village in a search of a guide. The church is imposing and easy to find and around it several agencies has its offices. Magmatrek was my chosen one due to good reviews. But they all do the same trek for the same price at about the same time of departure. The hikers start gathering on the plateau in front of the church at 4 pm. It is interesting to observe how differently equipped they came. Some in full mountain gear (the wise ones) others if they came directly from the beach (and they were the youngest ones). Each of them is carefully inspected by the guide and those not complying to minimum requested are promptly directed to neighbouring Totem store where all kinds of trekking equipment is for rent or for buy. At one point a group of teenagers were openly refused to the trek since they should change all of what they wear. Two days later I fully endorse this.
A few steps down the road from the church is pizzeria Da Lorenzo. Wood oven and delicious aromas attracts us to enter just to discover that they have also probably the finest terrace. It was almost full of guests in groups that were ell eating pizza. Luckily one couple has finished and we got the table in the first row. View was amazing and the pizza was also good. How difficult to find a table it must be in August I can only hardly immagine. The narrow main street ended in the port, passing by several alimentari (groceries) and shops for souvenirs and clothes. Not gelato but granita is the ice-cream of the choice on these islands. Different tastes and our preffered again was limone and pistacchio (best if mixed half half). Nothing more strenous then taking photos and wandering the narrow alleys and admiring the local architecture was our program till evening. Then we opted for a boat tour to see the Sciara del Fuoco or in other words the spectacle of the volcanic activity. My wife declined to hike Stromboli (good call) and this was the opportunity for her to admire it. There is no view of the eruptions from the village, just occasional detonation can be heard. From land the second best place to watch and to photograph the eruptions is Oservatorio. Have not been there so cannot give you details. Our boat departed late, at 9 pm (usually they starts around sunset). We were able to admire smaller and bigger eruptions for about 45 min which gives you an estimate of five eruptions. However there might be more of fewer depending on the mood of the God of Fire. On our return there was first and only short burst of rain during our visit. Not even enough to get wet so we stayed on top while others have decided to go under the cover.
Wednesday our full day on Somboli and also the day of my hike. We slept late and had a lazy breeakfast then we stroll the narrow alleys of Stromboli. At lunch time we were standing below the sign for Ai Gechi. The trattoria is about 50 m uphill the very narrow alley. This is another lovely place, very quiet, great interiors, and being the only clients the owner himself brought us the food. An excellent way to learn about island and food and other things. Two hours later it was time to return to hotel and to change into the hiking outfit. The stuff I had was OK and I was allocated to a guide who's group consisted of 20 persons. The hike started and for the first 15minutes we were walking fast. Once outside the village perimeter the Slope started to incline. Still in the vegetation there is a series of steps, uneven and leg muscles starts to warm up. Once outside the vegetation area I was thankful for every day I have spent in the gym (and they were at least 4 each week for the last year and a half). Two hours later we were on bare volcanic land, no more steps but narrow track with nothing to hold on if a wrong step is taken. Higher we went, better the views. Guide made a stop every 45 min, and while we were resting he was explaining about volcano and volcanic activities we were about to see. Last stop before the summit it was already windy and cold and time to put on a windbreaker. Soon after, we saw the ridge in fumes, and our first detonation. It was still daylight so we saw thick smoke drifting away in the wind, and we smelled the sulphur gases. Three hourse after the start we reached 918 m above sea. It was 7.45 pm and the sun was sinking below the sea of clouds. Very impressive, luckily the clouds were below the top so the views will not be obscured. Everybody changed the shirts for dry and warmer ones, and those more clever put on also warm pullovers and hats. Do this immediately after arriving. You might be distracted by loud detonation but don't worry - plenty more will follow and the light show start only after the sun is well below the horizon. For next 45 minutes I was trying to get a decent shot of one of eruptions; not an easy task since they came unannounced and the fingers starts to be numb due to coldness. Yet it was so mesmerising that I needed to stay one more turn. Luckily Magmatrek has several groups and my guide contacted the guide of the last group so my total time up was 1 hour 30 min. After one more big explosion also our group leaved the scene. Descent is made almost straight down the slope of volcanic sand. Total darkness and you just follow the guy in front of you. Ankle high boots proved to be very useful. And I saw others that have laced the pants to the shoes thus preventing any chance of sand and gravel entering into the boot. After about 30 min we stopped, guide counted us and ones with lower shoes has the chance to empty them. One hour and five minutes lasted our descent. If on the way up my calf shows signs of wear on descent I feel my knee to suffer even more. Again, this is one strenuous hike and you should be comfortable hiking in the mountains. Yet only one member of my first group decided to quit after the steps part.
Next day my legs were OK, and surprisingly I haven't catch a cold. Our transfer to Salina was scheduled at midday so there was time for postcards and some more shop browsing. Although physically demanding the hike was as good or even better as I was hoping for. If not doing this then there is not much else to be done on the island beside having some serious relaxing time.

SALINA
Much faster then the ferry was the hydrofoil ride, less then an hour from Stromboli to Salina, our third and last island to visit. Our hotel of choice was Mamma Santina in S.Marina di Salina. It was our splurge of a trip, a place to relax and to read books and to generally enjoy its beautiful environment. Hotel really looks as gorgeous in life as it is presented on its web site. Very attentive staff, spacious room, and my wife likes the colour scheme used. So we planted ourselves on the sunbeds in the pool area for the remaining of the afternoon. Well, we managed to be inactive at least for half a day, hahaha. For dinner we strolled the main street and at the far end of it noticed a tiny trattoria, 6 tables max. The owner was sitting outside reading the daily newspaper since it was still to early. We expressed to him our state of mind (ready to eat) so he invited us to return in good half an hour. So we did and were again lucky to find a place to eat we like. Trattoria Cucinotta is a very local place, small and while we were there, clientele were half locals half tourists. Owner is the waiter and the bartender and, probably, when the cook is not there, also a cook. Food is fresh, menu limited to few primi piatti and not more secondi piatti, always a good sign that what will come on the table will be made on spot and from fresh ingredients. And so it was, the room was packed ( 9 clients!!!), the chatter shifted between local italian and mix of foreign languages, the smells from the kitchen were fine and the food really good. And the price more then fair at 35€ for two.
A sideline: eating in Aeolian is an expensive affair. Our bills for dinner, having an antipasto, a primo or a secondo, and drinks (a bottle of sparkling water and a quarter of house white wine) were in the range from 45 € to 65 €. An espresso and a capucchino were 4 €. One granita 2,50 €. So the costs for a family of four can accumulate very fast.
Back to Salina. After returning to our room we seated outside on the balcony to enjoy the Stromboli also from far away. Visibility was good so even without binoculars the eruptions were visible. But staring in dark night waiting for next one soon influenced our eyelids. We were ready for bed.
Next morning, Friday, was our last full day on islands. My plan was to take buses and explore Lingua, Malfa, Leni, Rinella and Pollara. My wife plan was to rent a car and explore Lingua, Malfa, Leni, Rinella and Pollara. Thus we spent next 9 hours exploring above in our new friend, small Lancia Y.
Lingua is only 3 km from S.Marina. Attractions there are abandoned salt pond and Cucina da Alfredo. 90% of visitors stops only at Alfredo. But we are travelers so first we stroll to the pond and around the small lighthouse which, btw, gives oportunity for some interesting photos. The salt pond was not much of an interest, therefore we headed to Alfredo. Just in time as a larger group was finishing their Lingua attraction and leaving the place. What to order is not difficult: pane cunzato and granita. Remember to order one pane for two persons (just in case you are there alone and cannot see the size of the portion in advance). We even ordered it half half, one half Eolio and one half Salina. Then granita is also to be ordered half half with two flavors. Pistacchio and limone are our favorites. Back in tiny Y we headed all the way toward small port town named Rinella. In between we passed by Malfa, admiring its terraced vineyards, and visited Santuario della Madonna del Terzito, sacred place. Views to both sides of the island. We did not stopped in Leno but drove to the end of the road and parked our car on the dock in Rinella. This small hamlet is similar to (larger) towns we visited a year ago inCinque Terre. It looks like all the houses gravitated towards the small black sand beach. More fishing boats then sunbathers were on the beach itself. We spent half an hour talking to an older local man about old times and new times and everything in between. Up the alley to a small piazza and obligatory espresso and capucchino. Surprisingly only 2,80 €. Maybe also prices of food are more reasonable here then on the other side of the island, but we didn't checked. Back to the port and on the right side my wife spotted an impressive building above a small cove and even smaller beach. Looked closed and from outside in bad need of fresh paint. Yet it was open so we entered into a freshly renovated lobby. There was a lady offering us some informations about this hotel. Long history behind its walls. Haven't seen the prices but have their website address so back home I will check on them. Half way back we turned left toward famous Pollara. The road winds up the hill where there is a prominent lookout. More hairpins down the hill and following the signs for beach we ended above another pictoresque bay. Down the pathway and on the right side there a cave houses of some sort, and on the left side impressive cliff. More photos have been taken. The most famous house in Pollara is of course the one where the movie Il Postino has been filmed, but we never reach that far. Always leaving something for next visit. Up and down the hairpin road and back to Malfa. Just driving through, since we have not found where the center is or where the port is. So we did have another hour to kill before returning the car and what better way to spent it then having another granita at Da Alfredo in Lingua. Return of the car was a speedy thing, handover of keys and handshakes and Grazie, ci vediamo ancora. Not in a mood to walk more we decided to have dinner at Mamma Santina restaurant. Several eruptions on Stromboli later we switched off the light.

RETURN TO PALERMO
Our return to Palermo and a Sunday in Palermo deserves its own post. Since we had full day to spend ferry was obvious choice. It came from Napoli. Big ship named Laureana, operated by Siremar. Leaving from Salina at 10 am and stopping at Lipari and Vulcano ETA was at 1.20 pm. Seven decks high and from top beautiful views. Also benches are positioned in front of the ship's enormous exhausts so fresh air was assured.
Sideline: if traveling with suitcases and ferries, bring along a lightweight bike chain. Thus you could chain the suitcases at first seat or pole on the lowest deck and will be free to roam the ship.
Good info above just too late for me. At least a gram or two off, hopefully. Top deck on Laureana is as said nice, people were taking off their shirts and start to sunbathing.
Sideline: never underestimate the force of the sun. It is breezy up on the deck and you feel good but later that evening I was admiring my newly adopted skin color. Use a lot of sun lotion or keep the shirt on.
Stopping at Lipari and Vulcano produces some more photos, and at 1.40 pmwe arrived in Milazzo. Next task was to find the bus stop on No.5; it is positioned some 50 m left where there is a vehicle exit. We were of course followed the pedestrian exit, all the way towards entry to dock, and when finally arrived at the stop, the 1.50 pm bus already left. Next one at 2.55 pm, and the train departs for Palermo at 2.50 pm. While we were contemplating what to do an older man approached us and offered us a shuttle to the station. At 12 €. After receiving our initial no he just pointed where we could find him if changing our minds. As we did. Just were not in a mood to wait one hour for next bus and then another hour for next train. After boarding a heavily beaten Fiat we got instructed to pretend to be his friends in case that police stopped us. Nice. No problems though and 5 (long) minutes later we arrived at the train station. First what we noticed was that 2.50 pm train has, yes you guessed right, delay. Great! Didn't I received the lesson about Italian train schedule mere 8 days ago?! Well, at least we supported local entrepreneurship. Then also delay starts to play: 15 min, 25 min, 30 min, 20 min. The train just couldn't make his mind.
Sideline: never ever trust the train schedule of italian trains!
At least the seats were comfortable. It was a local train stopping "at every electric pole" as we used to say. Reading books helped us to survive three and half hours till Palermo. Our hosts at O'Scia B&B received us with smiles and since we have only eaten breakfast a past dish was in great demand.

PALERMO
Sunday and another splendid sunny day. It was voting day in Palermo thus streets were littered with pamflets and small cards with faces of all that would bring brighter future to Palermitanos. On the other side empty streets gave me an impression that voters were hidding inside their houses or they all fled to beaches. We got short instructions where to walk and what to see. Firstly we entered the Ballaro, an old quarter with narrow streets and old dilapidated houses. Many years ago was the last time I saw laundry hanging off the balconies. But Ballaro has also a market. Not an usuall square one but stalls were lined on both sides of those narrow streets and between them a stream of buyers, onlookers, tourists, carts, scooters, dogs were trying to navigate both ways. What a sight, what a cacophony of loud invitations to buy the freshest tuna, the sweetest strawberries, the longest zucchinis, the best ... Meat and tuna were chopped on one side while fake D &G bags were offered on the other side. And that goes on street after street after street. Absolutely loved the place. After several turns it was time for some different type of local culture. One can find a church in Palermo almost on every second corner, but there is only one Chiesa di Casa Professa. Nothing special outside but once you entered it is a jaw dropping moment. Have seen my share of churches around the Europe and world but this one easily reaches the Top 5. Baroque in style it is decorated from floor to ceiling and over again. The mass was on and while we were listening to the priest photos were accumulating fast. And then the organ starts to play and a real woman voice starts to sing. A moment to be remembered forever (and it will be thanks to the video capability of my small Nikon). Almost didn't want to leave but the mass was over. Out and in general direction of Catedrale. Easy to find this one was much less interesting (maybe we should left Professa for end?) and only place full of tourist groups. At least there is Meridiana and explanation why and how it works. On again toward Castello dei Normani. Too late we arrived as it closes at 1 pm on Sunday. Not having enough time to catch the bus for Monreeale we decided to have our last pasta dish in Sicily (at least in May of 2012 anyway). Found a restaurant nearby with outdoor tables and a sign claiming that they are mentioned in Routard 2012. A friendly owner was waiving us inside and a honest men cannot let down a friendly invitation, can he?! Pasta was very good (pasta fresca made at home), the bread even better (made at home just minutes ago) and cannoli ... Yes they were also made by them., and ricotta filling supposedly is the best in Palermo. The catch is in the sugar, as much as I understood rapid Italian with palermitano accent. Every meal in Italy has to be ended by an espresso, right? Slowly walking back we took some more pictures of crumbling houses in Ballaro quarter, checked the schedule of airport shuttle bus, retrieved the suitcases from our new friends of O'Scia in Palermo, and our trip was over.
Well, almost. There was another story to be told to my grandkids (when and if they arrive). Ryanair is a low fare airliner, no sets can be booked in advance. So we were pushing our way in front of the crowd and were first at the entry steps to the plane. Yet the ground attendance did not open the staircase. Because the flight attendand was not able to close the doors on the other side. She tried once, twice, three times ... It was obvious that this was a job for a man's hand. So I waved her, here I am, good looking and with a strong right arm. Hmmm, not strong enough since she did not respond. Two more failed attempts from her, and some muscle flexing from me (thank you Zoran) and she finally invites me up. Two hands were too much for that door and we were ready for take off.

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