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Adventures and Misadventures

Buongiorno Italia

ITALY | Thursday, 22 May 2008 | Views [2546] | Comments [2]

Roma - view from the spanish steps

Roma - view from the spanish steps

Asia gave me one last unforgettable gift on my last day… food poisoning. As I knelt over the toilet in a cramped airplane bathroom on a packed Emirates flight to Dubai I wondered just how good a start this was to the new chapter in my OS experience.  I can inform all fellow travelers that being sick on an airplane is about as bad as it gets and if it hadn’t been for the kindness of the Emirates air hostesses’s who rescued me and propped me up in their crew quarter with a cold head cloth I probably would have tested the emergency exits.  As it was I was forever mortified by being met as I walked off the plane by two waiting paramedics who piled me onto the back of an airport trolley complete with flashing lights and drove me through one of the busiest airports in the world to the medical centre. A young Dubai doctor fixed me up with some stomach calming drugs and I was fine to catch my next flight to Italy.

I arrived in Italy showing few signs of my disastrous flight other than the usual sleepiness. Italy? Since when was I going to Italy I hear you ask? Well at some point whilst soul searching in North Vietnam I decided to explore other avenues for overseas work besides the usual office work in the United Kingdom. Although I had made some really close friends in the UK and I was dying to go see them the desire to extend my endless summer in an exotic foreign destination took over. I signed up with a crew agency and after a few weeks of emails, Skype calls and endless discussions with Katie (poor girl copped an earbashing as I attempted to make a decision) my next destination was decided.  Roma, Italia, Europe HERE I COME.

So here I am writing this from the saloon of yet another gorgeous yacht based in Civitavecchia, a mere 40 minute train ride from Rome. ‘Mrs Marietta’ my new home is called and she is a beautiful Reichel-Pugh designed, Southern Wind shipyards built white yacht. I am the new deckhand for the summer season and work with three other crew:

·         Dudi (Italian) – skipper and America’s Cup Veteran with a friendly face and a penchant for pasta and Becks.

·         Iliara (Italian) – cook and designated ‘Mother’ of the boat. The kind of girl who will be the first to pop a blanket over you if you fall asleep on the couch and who puts up with my reprehensible attempts at speaking Italian.

·         Anita (Kiwi) – hostess and Jennifer Hawkins look alike. My girly gossip tennis partner with whom I giggle as we toss around juicy balls of boy, food and fashion tidbits.

I find it hard to believe I have been here three weeks already. As fast as time has flown we have settled into a routine of hard working weeks and relaxing play filled weekends.  My job basically entails assisting Dudi wherever and whenever he needs me which, while we are in port getting ready for the summer season, means cleaning decks, doing inventories of storage areas, checking things up the mast (34m high) and changing filters. When we are sailing Dudi and I are responsible for sailing the boat, keeping watch, mooring, anchoring and driving the tender. We have the owners for the first time for a weekend sail next weekend (31st May) and then we begin our summer season in the middle of June as we leave our base and set sail for Sardinia for a month and then on to Greece via the Eolie Islands in early August. We sail around Greece for a few months and then return to Civitavecchia to prepare the boat for its winter hibernation in late September, early October.   Yes… it is a hard life and my endless summer continues.

So that’s the future plan but what have I been doing so far I hear you say? Well Dudi picked me up from the airport along with Iliara who had arrived on the train from north Italy the same day and we drove down to Gaeta where the boat was on the hard having her bottom cleaned. I managed to stay awake on adrenalin until midnight Italian time my first night as we explored the boat, unpacked and went out for dinner. It didn’t take me long to realize the first Italian tradition I was going to struggle with… dinner time!! The Italians start eating dinner at around 9am if at home and 10am if at a restaurant and usually continue eating until 11 before retiring straight to bed around midnight. WHAT THE? It must be admitted though that Italian food is good enough to stay awake for.

Gaeta was a pretty coastal town with a long history and we experienced dining in the old quarter and shopping in various little food outlets – fromagerie (cheese shop), delicatessen,  grocery store, fruit market and butcher hidden down romantic alleyways.  After two nights Mrs M was put back in the water and we set sail for Ponza Island our halfway stop on our return sail to Civitavecchia.  Dudi did a circuit of the island so we could admire the seaside villages before anchoring in a bay on the west side where I saw my first Italian sunset as we relaxed with olives and a gin and tonic. The next day we returned to Civitavecchia which is quite a big port although our marina (Riva di Traiano) is about 10 minutes out of the town.  Riva is a large marina though with loads of boats including quite a few other crewed vessels which makes it quite social.

My first weekend in Italy I explored Civitavecchia town which is rather unremarkable and then spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the sun, relaxing and reading on deck.  On Sunday night we went with Dudi and three of his friends to a seafood restaurant in Santa Marinella a picturesque nearby town. That week the real work started and we set to a big pre-season deck clean. It took four of us all day to scrub the decks hard enough to remove all the black and dirt from the teak before Dudi and I coated them with acid to bleach the wood.  We wore shoes whilst walking around on the acid coated decks but as I dragged the hose along the wood and then washed the acid off I inadvertently coated my hands with diluted acid. I never realized until two days later when I started leaving piles of skin wherever I put my peeling hands down – eewwww GROSS. Four days later we had finally finished cleaning, oiling the teak, polishing the white surfaces, polishing the stainless steel, washing the hull and scrubbing the dinghy. Friday we took a break in the afternoon and drove to a nearby marina to source some new uniforms finally deciding on some rather smart blue and white pinstriped shorts and pants to match our navy blue polo tops.

Weekend number 2 involved my first real venture into Italian culture. Dudi kindly invited us to join him for two parties on the Saturday in Castelli Romani a very wealthy vineyard region in the hills surrounding Rome and Anita and I gladly accepted.  The first was a lunch at his sister’s estate for his niece’s 18th birthday. Around 30 friends and family sat down to a gorgeous BBQed lunch (seriously I come all this way to Italy the HOME of food and they think BBQ’s are fancy?)  Their property had a gorgeous view of the verdant green surrounding countryside and looked down towards Rome sitting in the valley below.  We duly rang in her 18th with an amazing strawberry torte and Dom Perignon at which my tastebuds died in delicious shock previously thinking Omni was a wonderful treat.  In the afternoon Dudi drove us around the nearby area showing us the scenic volcanic lake which the Pope’s summer house overlooked.  Then a real treat – Rome IKEA! We amused ourselves for a few hours wandering around the huge IKEA and picking out a few things for the new season on the boat. It was back up into the hills that night to a birthday party at a plastic surgeon’s house who was a friend of Dudi’s from his sailing school. We trailed an excellent example of plastic surgery into the party who was decked out in shiny blue ¾ trackpants, ridiculously high white wedge shoes and a spangly white tank top with PINKY splashed across the obviously enhanced chest area. The surgeon’s house was amazing however and the backyard was adorned with flashing disco lights, a well stocked cocktail and wine table and a buffet fit for kings. Later after many glasses of Prosecco and a few lethal mojitos Anita and I danced to old school music played by the live band and then dodgy disco tracks played by the DJ before gladly following Dudi out to the car for the long drive home around 2am. Our Sunday was spent on a motor yacht in Riva where Salvatore, a really sweet old Captain, cooked us and the crew of our neighbouring boat ‘Lorraine’  a gorgeous seafood lunch.

The next week we focused on the inside of the boat as the weather alternated between spring and summer outside.  Iliara made the most of the opportunity to visit her boyfriend back in North Italy for the week  so Anita and I sneakily cooked dinner around 8pm every night and returned to a little regularity! One day Dudi drove us down to Naples to meet the owner where he had to conduct some business. Naples is a BIG city with nearly one million occupants.  We arrived around lunchtime and dined on the waterfront in one of Naple’s finest restaurants ‘Chiro.’ Naturally we had pizza as Naples is the home of pizza in Italy and it was justifiably fantastic! Followed closely of course by Fragole (fresh strawberries) and gelato. YUMMO.  Dudi then drove us to around Naples waterfront pointing out a historic castle and the view over the water to Mount Vesuvius around which clouds hung poetically.  We then went to meet the owner of Mrs M who is an Italian shipping magnate.  ‘L’ was really nice and we spent a good hour in his office playing on google earth with him while Dudi conducted business in the office next door.

The week finished up and as planned Anita and I headed into Civitavecchia early on Saturday to catch the train into Rome. After missing the first train by 20 seconds (we literally saw it leave the platform as we ran onto it) we eventually arrived into Roma just after 11. It was straight onto the underground metro which smelt a little like a musty bat cave and we hopped off at Spagna station. Aptly named as two minutes walk from the station we emerged onto Piazza de Spagna and the famous Spanish steps.  With Byron Keats house on one side and a gorgeous church at the top of the steps it was a pretty spectacular introduction to Rome. Throughout the course of the afternoon Anita and I wandered around and around the small alleyways in ‘central’ Rome taking in Piazza Navona, Piazza Venezia, Campo del Fiori, Fontana de Trevi, Pantheon and the famous Via del Corso shopping street where all the famous brands have boutiques.

Rome was packed with tourists as it was a Saturday but the atmosphere was still electric when we finally stopped for a cocktail in Campo Del Fiori we blessed the promised rain for holding off. We then met 2 of Anita’s Italian friends for dinner in a little ristorante just off Piazza Navona for a tasty dinner followed once again by gelato (it had been twice in a day!) Then Enzo drove us around some more of the sights of Rome. By now I have figured out that every Italian irrespective of their regional background is incredibly proud of Rome. Enzo being a Roman loved showing Rome off and stopped to let me excitedly take photos of the Colosseum,  St Peters Basilica and Rome at night from one of its seven hills.  He eventually drove us back to Civitavecchia around 1am and we fell into bed absolutely exhausted from our big day.

After seeing Rome I can understand why Italians are so proud and exuberant about their beautiful city and their culture and heritage. I am fortunate enough to have the chance to spend a few months in this welcoming country and when my Italian progresses past “Ciao, Come Stai?” or “hi, How are you?” I think my experience will grow even more!




Oh Anna!!

I am soo envious but glad to hear you are having such a wonderful time. It sounds like absolute bliss!
Enjoy yourself and stay safe...

Love Al. xx

  Alex McMullen May 25, 2008 5:37 PM


I was looking for information on Lipari (Eolie Isole) on Google when I came across your very interesting and well-written narrative. Well done.


  Maureen McCarthy Jul 1, 2008 1:18 PM

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