From Nice we’re heading to Genoa for our ferry to Sicily. Eliza seems sleepy so I walk her about in Nice a little, hoping she’ll drift off before the journey starts. No such luck, but she does manage to get off to sleep before we’ve left the narrow, confusing streets of the city. Left temporarily at least, as actually I’d like to take the scenic coastal path rather than the motorway route Marie has programmed into the sat nav. A quick detour back through the centre of Nice and we’re on the beautiful coastal road heading east out of the city, past the old harbour Viri recommended (very pretty), past huge mansions topped with turrets and other extravagances and down through Villefranche-sur-Mer (which Viri also recommended, also very pretty, even if we did find a dead end or two).
—-In fact I’m going to backtrack a little on the day’s route as I’ve just realised that possibly my most favourite bit of road ever barely got a mention in Marie’s blog post. The Esterel mountain range runs up to the coast for a large stretch of the route between Sainte Maxime and Cannes. Gorgeous deep orange rocks reaching high into the sky and dropping dramatically down into the rich blue sea below. It was just after Viri got Eliza off to sleep and it was a most magnificent reward. We even dared to stop at a couple of viewpoints on the way through and marvelled at the colours and the beauty of the landscape. I can’t wait to return and explore- above and below the water.—-
Anyway, we continue along from Nice on the pretty scenic route, jumping back on the motorway just before Monaco and Monte Carlo, so we see the high rise casinos from above. All of a sudden we’re met with the ‘Italia’ sign and everything looks subtly different. The trees seem a deeper shade of green (which I’m sure is in my head), it’s much less densely populated and the motorway is cutting through mountain after mountain with gorgeous tunnels that I’m thoroughly enjoying.
We decide to stop in Porto Maurizio for dinner, I think end up in Imperia and in any case, miss the pretty old centre and thinking we’re in a busy harbour, find one trattoria on a busy road ahead of us with some high rise flats on the other side of the road instead. Not exactly the picturesque first meal in Italy we’d imagined, but the trattoria has a pretty garden with bird of paradise flowers and pretty yellow tubular ones hanging down from a bush. The restaurant is great and for the first time so far on our trip, all the children and babies in the restaurant are being included in the conversations and there is not a screen in sight. The Italians have a reputation for treating children like kings and there’s definitely some truth in that. The waiters are very friendly and relaxed toward us and other customers come to coo over Eliza at various points during out meal.
Fed and watered, we make the final part of our journey over to Genoa pretty late in the evening. Our 10:30 pm ferry has been postponed until 3:30am- the perfect time to be driving aboard and checking in to a cabin! I manage to sleep most of the way there, completely by accident, and then wonderfully navigate us into the commercial port on the outskirts of the city. We get redirected though and do make it onto the boat, after a slight free for all in the loading bay (thank you Britain and your love of orderly queueing and polite turn taking).
It’s straight up to our cabin and off to sleep for us. Along with the majority of the guests, we miss the breakfast the following morning, meaning the poor guy in the café is working his socks off with a constant stream of Italians coming for their morning espresso, oh and a Brit and a French woman asking for some tea (literally the only deviation from espresso I saw on the whole trip- it’s so popular the coffee machine is set up so it can make 6 at a time). Marie has the most disappointing toasted cheese sandwich of her life so when the tannoy announces that the self service restaurant is open for lunch she is really quite insistent that we visit. It’s mediocre at best but the flat Mediterranean sea is good to us and there’s not an ounce of sea sickness or that tricky drunken stagger as you walk about. Marie’s a little disappointed with the lack of on board entertainment though- very different to her memories of ferries to Greece as a child, although we do get a film in English in the evening. Eliza alternates between nice long naps and a fidgety need to be walked about so we spend a good few hours wandering corridors during our 22 hour trip.
We arrive in Palermo, the Sicilian capital at around 2am. Disembarking is a similar free for all as getting on the boat was, only this time in a confined space with cars reversing and driving in all directions. I nervously suggest we stay put until it clears a bit and Eliza is meanwhile singing the song of her people in the back. The lorries above are tooting and clanging like mad and altogether it’s a bit harrowing. Just as we’re climbing the ramp about to be rid of the cacophony, a man stops us and in the mirrors we can see several people running up each side of the car. Confused, we wind down the windows to be handed our rear number plate, which has shaken itself off during the journey- great, we’re now travelling through a foreign city at some godforsaken time in the morning holding a number plate.
Things continue to be crazy- sat nav directs us through streets with cars parked in the road on both sides and much like in Nice, people randomly parked alongside the parked cars so you have to zig zag through it all. Meanwhile it’s surprisingly busy and all the Italians seem keen to beep us and overtake us in the craziest of places.
We breathe a sigh of relief as we exit the city and head west toward our sleepy fishing village of Castellammare del Golfo. Also, I’ve learned from our guidebook on the journey, a town which used to be closely linked to the Mafia and had the highest crime rate in Sicily (oh and I also learned that Naples and Sicily have the highest crime rates in Italy, our next two destinations!). The journey progresses smoothly, Eliza has fallen asleep and we’ve contacted our host to advise him of our 4am arrival. All is well until we reach the tiny streets of the town- ‘turn left’ says James, into a pedestrianised street protected by bollards. From then onwards the streets are too narrow and grid-like for the sat nav to be able to differentiate between them so we’re wildly guessing and then, luckily, helped by my phone. We reach the piazza where we’ve been told to park and nearly burst two tyres going up a steep step, missing the concrete that’s been poured only halfway along it to help cars get up onto it.
Our host shows us in and we collapse gratefully into our bed, Eliza sound asleep….only to discover we’re completely wired and can’t get off until after 5am!