From Besançon to Sicily and back
September-October 1965
(Notes by Kay and Russ)

Acquired before setting out:
  Tent piquet
  Cooker and two bottles
  Insurance and itinerary
  Carnet de camping
  4 boxes of sweeties
  2 boîtes de cassoulet
  2 boîtes de tuna
  2 boîtes de sardines
  1 boîte de pâté
  Guide vert
Cost: 106,00 F

Thurs. 23 Sept., Besançon-Lesa, 360 km. Sunny, warm, no clouds. Tyre burst just before Brig. Lunch: tomato sandwiches, potato, pears, coffee. Dinner: soup, cassoulet, potato, peach, bread and butter, cake, chocolate. Petrol: 13,30 Swiss francs; cowbell: 3,95 SF; cigarettes: 20,00 SF; train: 4000 lire; tyre: 500 lire; camping: 380 lire. Retiring time: 9.15 p.m.

Fri. 24 Sept., Lesa-Rivoltella-Mestre, 371 km. Rising time: 5.20 a.m. Weather at departure: fine. Lunch at Tecla's in Rivoltella del Garda. Tecla well but bad polio in the winter. Mother well. Sister well, boy, gorgeous house. Road cuts through garden. Very kind welcome. Dog. Autostrada from Verona to Venice. Camping: 585 lire. Retiring time: 9.10 p.m.

Sat. 25 Sept., Mestre-Venice-Ravenna-Florence, 219 km. Rising time: 5.20 a.m. Weather at departure: fine; at 11.35 a.m.: cloudy. Venice: Rialto, San Marco, Palazzo dei Dogi. Boat (vaporetto): 200 lire. Ravenna: S. Vitale, Battistero degli Ortodossi, S. Apollonio, Mausoleo di Gallia. = Byzantine mosaics. Meal in Taverna dei Medici, Florence. Camp-site on hill in Fiesole.

Sun. 26 Sept., Fiesole-Florence-Rome, 308 km. Rising time: 5.50 a.m. Mass at Duomo Fiesole, 7.30 a.m. Visit: Franciscan convent, Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Signoria. Raining hard. Lunch at S. Giovanni del Arno. Autostrada to Rome. Windscreen wiper bust. Trying to get into Rome: diversions, queues everywhere. Raining harder! Car stuck in mud at camp-site. Both tired. Towed out by Land Rover, which knocked down a tent. Petrol paid with coupons in Italy.

Mon. 27 Sept., Rome-Napoli-Pompeii-Salerno (near), 375 km. Knocked-down tent owned by nice Dutchman; no damage. Went into Rome to try to get windscreen wiper fixed - no go; I tried to fix it - no go. Rome traffic just like Paris except for a lot of horn-blowing. Very good autostrada to Pompeii, weather fine. Pompeii fascinating. Round Sorrento peninsula - very beautiful, esp. South side. 70 km. of windy roads. Traffic crawl at Salerno. Impossible to find camp-site - almost. Finally, camp-site in builder's yard near sea at Pontecagnano! - didn`t arrive until 9.00 p.m. N.B. people in Pontecagnano, 1-legged man.

Tues. 28 Sept., Pontecagnano-Paestum-Palmi, 427 km. Dep. 8.10 a.m.; arr. 7.30 p.m. Looked at sea before setting off - big breakers. Beautiful weather. First stop: Paestum - wonderful Greek temples. Beautiful run down through South of Italy. Rock blasting. Wild countryside - old towns clustered on hill-tops. Chestnuts, boys selling figs; fig trees, cacti, olive trees, bamboo - luxuriant growth. Women with pots and baskets on head, bare feet. Windy roads and fast coast ones. Burping Fanny* a marvel. Very good camp-site at Palmi; v. nice warden and son. Squirrels in trees; one threw down a fir-cone, just missing camp-warden's head! Squid for supper! Woman in fruit shop: "Non è fontana in casa".
[* The registration plates of our second-hand Renault 4 bore the letters "BF"; our previous car, an old Citroën 2CV, was Jumping Gertie (for "JG")]

Wed. 29 Sept., Palmi-Villa S. Giovanni-Messina-Palermo, 327 km. Dep. 7.50 a.m.; arr. 6.00 p.m. Palmi cloudy. Windy, slow (traffic) road to Villa S. G. Fine weather all way to Palermo. Crossing - sea beautiful, blue, clear water. Boat: 4200 lire. Slowish going for several miles after Messina. Diversion into hills near Patti because of rocks on road. Hill roads mostly unmade - dust, ruts, sheep, bends - BF took it in her stride. Fast going from there on till near Palermo. All river beds completely dry (same in S. Italy). Warm welcome at Palermo. Nice flat to stay in - stocked-up fridge.

Thurs. 30 Sept., Palermo. Renault agency moved. Man in office looking up numbers in street. Shopping for lunch - boy accompanied me. Me - stomach upset. Dinner at Vitales'*.
[* Mme Vitale, a student of Kay's in one of the intensive six-week English stages in Besançon, had invited us to stay in her mother's flat in Palermo while her mother was away at her other home in Enna. All our students were "Monsieur", "Madame" or "Mademoiselle".]

Fri. 1 Oct., Palermo. Went for swim at Mondello. Windscreen wiper mended for nothing! Went for ride round old part of city with Mme Vitale. Slum areas - washing, dirt, desolate palaces, beams, narrow streets. Il Gattopardo, fish market, prickly pears, polyps (octopodes). Bought lemons (70 lire). Car wouldn't start after vidange and graissage (oil change).

Sat. 2 Oct., Palermo. In morning went to old part of city - Piazza Bellini, Martorana - beautiful mosaics. Old lady waited to tell Kay her bag was open. Cathedral square - lots of children, seminary boys. Marché aux puces - bits of cart, pieces of cars, bikes. Stalls selling citrons pressés, prickly pears, polyps, pizzas, etc. Mondello - beautiful, clear water. Evening: Opra dei puppi (in old palazzo area) - chansons de geste - wonderful atmosphere - old traditions still alive - family concern. Costumes, decor, dramatic entries and exits, bloodthirsty duels, barrel organ, little boy in it. Dinner at Vitales' - Nino, almost blind, fluent English, French and Spanish, fantastic memory of facts from radio.

Sun. 3 Oct., Palermo. Mass in typical baroque church (S. Francesco di Paola). With Mr. Vitale visited Palazzo Reale (seat of national assembly - first 1130, second 1947); Sala di Ruggero II: primitive hunting mosaics. Palatine Chapel - wonderful - Arabo-Norman - mosaics, stalactite roof, marble decoration. Mass going on while we were there (M. Vitale nearly "excommunicated" by priest). S. Giovanni delli Eremiti - v. beautiful - cloister, flowers, exotic plants, domes. Evening: Mondello - polipo, sea urchin and mussel stakes. We had Neapolitan pizza and beer (700 lire).

Mon. 4 Oct., Palermo, Monreale. Morning - went to Monreale, visited monastery church - beautiful mosaics, covering the tops of the walls + painted ceilings - wooden beams and stalactite effect. Had to empty some oil out of engine as too much had been put in at garage. Battery water 260 lire! Swam at Mondello. Afternoon: Palatine Chapel for second time. Traffic: screaming tyres, horns blasting; priority where you can find it - same with pedestrians.

Tues. 5 Oct., Palermo, Segesta, Selinunte. Herds of goats or sheep. Long waits at level crossings. Sicilian carts - beautifully decorated (Orlando furioso themes) - esp. at Partinico. Grape harvest. Vans piled high; motor-bikes high and wide; donkeys wide. Some donkeys v. small. Went to Segesta: Greek temple and Roman theatre. Selinunte: Greek temples and acropolis - one of ruined temples had huge monoliths, esp. pillar capitals. Had swim at Selinunte (v. refreshing) and sunbathe. Spot of rain in late afternoon.

Wed. 6 Oct., Palermo, Cefalù, Bagheria. Fine weather continued. Went to Cefalù early in morning. Accelerator spring broke - therefore max. revs - valve stuck. Got it mended quickly in Cefalù thanks to very kind man and quick mechanic (500 lire). Cathedral - mainly Norman in style - timber roofs, mosaics. Went back to Solunto peninsula - had bathe. Visited Villa Palagonia in Bagheria - stone monsters. Orange and lemon trees. Flies.

Thurs. 7 Oct., Palermo. Bought piece of cart (4000 lire) with Mrs. Vitale - very funny. Bathed, shopped. Dinner at Vitales'.

Fri. 8 Oct., Palermo-Agrigento-Enna-Piazza Armerina, 313 km. Dep: 8.30 a.m.; arr. 4.30 p.m. Weather fine. Visited temples at Agrigento - old ruins against modern skyscraper setting. Centre of Sicily - v. desert-like soil, sandy-coloured or white. Sundry rocks and stones. Bit like miniature Grand Canyon. Enna high up - tremendous view. Homes hewn out of rock. Eucalyptus trees. Quails. Groups of one man, one dog, one horse/mule/donkey, one sheep, one goat, one cow, etc. Biblical scene of sheep grazing amongst olive trees. Beautiful mosaics at Piazza Armerina. Camped in municipal wood.

Sat. 9 Oct., Piazza Armerina-Noto-Siracusa-Catania-Mount Etna, 303 km. Dep: 7.15 a.m. Arr. foot of Etna: 3.30 p.m.; top: 5.00 p.m. Generosity of poor countries. No water where we camped - washed at Agip garage. Eucalyptus, almond, orange, lemon, olive trees. Wedding at Noto - baroque town. Siracusa - Greek temple and Latomie du Paradis: wonderful artificial caves. Banana, orange, mandarin, lemon, bay trees. After Catania long climb up to base of Etna - BF v. good. Fantastic landscape of stark, dark grey lava everywhere you look. Téléférique not working. Decided to go up in Land-Rover-type Alfa Romeo to refuge near top. Exciting drive up through lava ashes. V. cold at top. Stayed night in refuge.

Sun. 10 Oct., Etna-Messina-Reggio di Calabria, 120 km. Dep: 2.15 p.m.; arr. 6.30 p.m. Snow, mist and rain at top of Etna. Down Etna in jeep (5000 lire). Weather terrible, rain all afternoon. Camp on beach - sand. Rain started again. Flooded tent - had to sleep in camp owner's chalet with a German couple. Half gear sopping wet!

Mon. 11 Oct., Reggio-Napoli, 566 km. Dep: 8.20 a.m.; arr: 8.00 p.m. Rain then fine. Long drive up. Sorry to leave the sea. Camped near a zoo in Naples.

Tues. 12 Oct., Napoli-Rome, 297 km. Vatican - cardinals*. Lunch. D'Amico, Ungaretti**. Colosseum. Put up tent. Dinner with Ungaretti and Czech translator, Vladislov - truffles, bistecca alla fiorentina, grapes. Fine mostly - a shower in evening.
[* I took a photo of the cardinals coming down the steps of St. Peter's (it was Vatican II). The film didn't take as I hadn't put it in properly (not inserted right in take-up spool). Other non-photos included one of a Sicilian cart. The joys of analog photography!]
[** Giuseppe Ungaretti was the subject of Kay's doctoral thesis; D'Amico was his secretary.]

Wed. 13 Oct., Rome-Montecatini-Parma, 557 km. Dep: 7.50 a.m.; arr. 7.00 p.m. Up later than usual. Found autostrada easily - up to Montecatini with fine weather, but already chilly, no sun coming in car. Arrived lunch-time. Ada much fatter, with dark hair. Beautiful baby - fair hair. Stayed a couple of hours. Ada lives with parents.

Thurs. 14 Oct., Parma-Montreux, 500 km. Dep: 6.30 a.m.; arr: 2.30 p.m. Fog up to Milan - freezing cold. Gran San Bernardo. Beautiful autumn colours. Road on Italian side and tunnel very good. Stopped to find Monks* - still the same, only thinner. Went to Lausanne to shop. Night at Montreux.
[* John Monks, at the time an English teacher at a private school in Montreux, had been a fellow student at Manchester U.]

Fri. 15 Oct., Montreux-Besançon, 156 km. Dep: 10.40 a.m.; arr: 1.45 p.m.

Distance covered by BF during trip: 5820 km.

Total expenditure during trip:
  equipment 28,90
  documents 32,00
  petrol 277,30
  repairs & service 54,95
  transport & parking 137,00
  food 241,70
  camping 49,75
  visits 18,00
  cards 20,75
  tips 10,90
  cigs 75,45
  extras 85,90
  presents 172,65
Total: 1204,25 F

By way of comparison, the Guide vert Sicile which we bought for 7,50 FF in September 1965 is listed by Michelin in July 2012 at 21,20 €. The official exchange rate of the French franc is 6,55957 FF = 1 €.

© 2012 R. Wooldridge