I love wine for lunch – I should do this all the time!

We were up early to start a new day. After an Italian breakfast at the hotel, we were ready to head out.

The girl at the hotel desk suggested that it would be easy to drive to, and park in, the centre of old town Acireale. But we had been fooled before – so noting that it was just 2 km away, we decided to walk. And that was a good choice! I don’t know if the girl has been to Carnevale celebrations but driving and parking would not have been easy. 20140302-225334.jpg We enjoyed our walk, stopping in at a pescheria (fish market). We couldn’t identify half of the fish for sale.

We arrived at a Piazza Duomo, the main square in the old town. The piazza is bordered by the 16th century Cathedral, the 18th century Basillica and the Palazzo Municipale. 20140302-225734.jpg The piazza was buzzing with activity, as the ‘Scuole in maschera’ was taking place. This involved school groups – of all ages – parading in themed costumes – each group enclosed by ropes held by parents. I imagined Kelsey wishing she could rope all her charges together at times! 20140302-230033.jpg We enjoyed watching this event and as it wound down, it was time for a cappuccino. 20140302-230142.jpg We then wandered the area, exploring the streets and surrounding environs. The day had started overcast and for a bit, there was a smattering of rain and gusty winds. We decided we would do as the Italians do and have our main meal at lunch time as this would best fit the day’s schedule. So we began to look for a restaurant. We walked and walked and walked. And found nary a trattoria, osteria or restaurante.

We were quickly becoming cold, hungry and somewhat grouchy when I spotted a sign – self-service gastronomia. We were not sure what this was but had nothing to lose so headed in. It turned out to be a sort of cafeteria. The fellow serving (who turned out to be the owner) told us that he spoke a little English. And then proceeded to explain all of the food choices and to lead us to a table and get us settled down. 20140302-231610.jpgWe had a great meal of shared super-fresh salad, freshly-cooked Penne Brutanesca, mixed fish/seafood plate and half litre of red wine. It was great! 20140302-231901.jpgAs we were readying to leave (after I had a blonde moment of using the men’s room – to the surprise of the elderly gent who I met on the way out), we chatted more with our host. He was very excited to hear that we were from Canada as he is heading to Montreal in April to try to open Da Sasa II. We are unsure of why Montreal and don’t think that he really understood how far away we live from Montreal. 20140302-232002.jpg During the mid-afternoon, the streets were quiet but around 3 pm, the crowds began to gather and the celebrations were on! 20140302-232211.jpg The parade of allegorical floats was scheduled to start at 4 pm but in true Sicilian fashion, the first float appeared around 5 and they continued to show up at intervals until around 7. There were some technical difficulties in locomotion and lighting but no one really seemed to care.

The floats really were spectacular!! 20140302-232525.jpg20140302-232606.jpg20140302-232651.jpg I haven’t been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans but I have seen pictures and video and I have experienced the drunken debauchery that is a Bourbon Street on a random day on October. Carnevale in Sicily did not seem anything like this – it was a time for families and friends. I didn’t see anyone who appeared drunk, or anyone even drinking. It was just fun!! 20140302-233023.jpg After looking at all the floats and costumes, we headed to the midway area where various food trailers were situated. A couple of Sicilian gents, who spoke no English, convinced us to have sausage on a bun, smothered in mushrooms, onions and lettuce (we could also have had tomatoes, eggplant and other items that we couldn’t identify). They also pulled a bottle of wine out of the back of the truck and poured us a glass. It was great! 20140302-233404.jpg At that point, we battled through the enormous crowd in Piazza Duomo and trekked our 2 km back to the hotel. We had been gone for 10 hours and spent the majority of that time on our feet, so were exhausted and fell into bed almost immediately.

Carnevale was a great event and we were so lucky to have experienced it!

Cheers,

B&H

History and garbage…..

Naples is an interesting area. Perhaps not all because of great things – but definitely interesting.

On Monday morning, we arose just in time to catch the end of the hotel breakfast – apricot correttos, yogurt, cereal – and of course, cappuccino. We then headed towards Napoli centro. The hotel desk man on Sunday had suggested that we could drive to Piazza Cavour and find a parking garage. He failed to mention the craziness that we might encounter with traffic in that area. We set ‘Sally-Sue’ for that destination. Those of our readers who have travelled with us have made the acquaintance of Sally – our trusty Garmin GPS. Now Sally has many good points – one of which is her excellent grasp of Italian pronunciation – but one of her faults is that she occasionally chooses travel routes that are challenging. Today was one of these occasions.

We were led into an area with narrow streets, a number of one- ways resulting in switchback turns and a very large volume of cars, scooters, buses and random pedestrians. Italians do not really follow any traffic laws or etiquette – they pretty much go where they want, when they want. I had a bit of a meltdown, fearing for our rental car. I didn’t think the speed was great enough to fear for our lives, although I wondered about some of the pedestrians and helmetless scooter riders. Luckily, Harv remained calm, cool & collected, even professing to somewhat enjoying the chaos. He did become a bit agitated when a siren blasting police van came up behind us and there was nowhere to turn. Apparently, Italians don’t worry about moving for emergency vehicles either…. 20140225-211259.jpgWe finally determined that we might never reach the intended destination so reset Sally for the airport. The drive there was much less stressful and we settled the Fiesta in a nearly deserted parking garage and hopped on the Alibus, which would take us directly to the Stazione Centrale area we wanted to reach. 20140225-211411.jpgAfter a calming bus ride, we arrived in central Naples and took some time to randomly wander the streets – checking out the chaos from a sidewalk. We then hopped on a metro train to the Museo stop and entered the Museo Archeologico. Housed on the main floor is the Farnese Collection, a grand collection of restored statues excavated from Rome’s Baths of Caracalla. We were once again amazed at the detail of these amazing sculptures. 20140225-212053.jpgWe then climbed the grand staircase to the top floor. Here we found the statues, artifacts and art found in Pompeii, as well as numerous bronze statues from Herculaneum. It was so interesting to envision these items in use when Mount Vesuvius stopped time in 79 AD, as well as to imagine the painstaking work it must have taken to excavate and recover so many items. 20140225-212415.jpg20140225-212208.jpgReturning to the mezzanine level, we admired the mosaics recovered from Pompeii 20140225-212311.jpg and then visited the Gabinetto Segreto. This so-called ‘Secret Room’ houses a sizeable assortment of erotic frescoes and bawdy statues. I won’t post any photos, but just will comment to many of these men from ancient Pompeii – “you wish….”

Leaving the museum, we followed Rick Steve’s self-guided walk, which he titles ‘A Slice of Neapolitan Life’. We travelled down through the principal shopping area, with a couple of impressive structures used as shopping ‘malls’. 20140225-212920.jpgWe detoured off the main thoroughfare to wander a bit through the Spanish Quarter, known as one of Naples’ rawest, poorest and most characteristic neighbourhoods. 20140225-213019.jpgWe admired the exteriors of the Royal Palace and Teatro Di San Carlo.

It was time for a gelato break – and it was as good as we remembered! 20140225-213254.jpgWe took in the harbour view and passed by the Castel Nuovo, which houses civic offices and the civic museum. Close by, we found the Alibus stop and headed back to the airport, the car and and to the hotel. We stopped at a likely looking restaurant down the street but of course, it didn’t open until 7 pm, we decided on pizza again at the hotel. It was delicious and I had time to prepare for Tuesday’s assessment. 20140225-213514.jpgUp early on Tuesday morning and after a quick breakfast, Harv whisked me to the US Naval Support Site, where I spent a delightful day with the hospital blood bank staff performing their AABB & CAP inspections. Harvey spent the day seeing a few of the neighborhood sites here in Guiglianano. 20140225-213837.jpg We returned to the hotel and following our pattern of relaxing, decided to eat here again. Delicious caprese salad, spaghetti bolognese, wine & limoncello. 20140225-213601.jpg We will be sad to leave the Hotel Agora tomorrow as they have treated us like family – but on to new exciting sites….

Interesting facts about the Naples area –
– it is apparently acceptable to just drop your garbage bags at the side of the road as it seems to be done everywhere. Quite disgusting!
– it is also apparently acceptable for hookers to stand/sit at pull-offs along major thoroughfares. And at noon, throughout the afternoon, etc. – guess that’s why there are prolonged lunch hours….
– the potholes in side roads are worse than Edmonton – and that’s saying something.
– Monday is laundry day in Naples! 20140225-214345.jpgAnd finally, why would anyone eat this? 20140225-214438.jpgAll in all, Naples has been interesting and worth a visit but it certainly wouldn’t go on my list of return vacation spots!

Cheers,

B&H

Reflections

We have been back in Alberta for a week now, the jet lag has faded and I have had time to look over our pictures and think about the trip. So some final reflections on the places we visited….

Berlin
Berlin is full of history – with such significant 20th century events – and museums abound, telling those stories and those of more distant history, as well as featuring an abundance of art treasures. It is a gritty city; outside the tourist centre, graffiti covers almost any reachable surface and in the early morning, you encounter litter of bottles and fast food wrappers. But it gives the impression of a livable city – unpretentious and vibrant, full of new construction as the former East Berlin still grows, 24 years after the fall of the wall. Also, the local people were so helpful – offering assistance when we hadn’t even asked!

Having visited Berlin, would I return? It’s not on the top of the list, but given the opportunity, I wouldn’t pass it by. I would like to delve a bit more into the history, by taking a walking tour and spending more time on Museum Island. I would also like to visit Potsdam and take a boat ride on the Spree.
20131029-140424.jpgDresden
We arrived in Dresden in the early afternoon and departed the next morning, so my impressions are fleeting. The central core we visited was an interesting mix of the old and new – or perhaps the new and the new made to look old, as 75% of the Old Town was destroyed by WWII bombing and many of the historical sights have been reconstructed. We were in Dresden on the Day of German Unity, a national holiday commemorating the reunification in 1990, so my impression is of a busy, fun area, full of local German families enjoying their day. Probably not the scene every day, but it made for a fun day for us as we mingled with the locals, enjoying wurst and Gluwein (hot mulled wine).

On another visit to Dresden (again, not topping the list, but worth consideration if in the area) , I would take the time to actually know what I was looking at, rather than just admiring the fine Baroque architecture. I would like to visit the interior of the Frauenkirche – this church from 1743 was completely destroyed by bombing, but was painstakingly rebuilt with international donations and reopened recently. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, the line-up was prohibitive when we were there. Other sights to include on a possible future visit are the Historic Green Vault, which houses a glittering Baroque treasury, and Volkswagon’s Transparent Factory where the Phaeton is produced.
20131029-140549.jpgPrague
Ah, Prague – what a beautiful city! I would describe ‘Praha’ as charming, historic and so unique. The architecture is amazing – the city of spires and an eclectic mix of architecture, ranging from Gothic and Renaissance to Baroque and Art Nouveau. All of the people we encountered were so friendly and made us feel welcome in their city. The opportunities for entertainment are many and varied – street performers, classical concerts, black light theatre…… And the food – we ate in small, local restaurants that rival some of the best I have encountered anywhere.

I would love to return to Prague – to wander the streets, to try more small restaurants and to further explore the sights – more time in the Castle and Jewish Quarters, a concert at the Opera House and a paddle boat on the river.
20131029-162451.jpgCesky Krumlov
Cesky Krumlov is a well-preserved fairy tale town. The narrow streets are fun to stroll through and the castle gardens are beautiful. The small town is probably crazy during the height of tourist season, but on an October afternoon and evening, it was delightful.

If passing by Krumlov in the future, I would probably stop in for a night at the wonderful Penzion Delanta and enjoy the ambiance of the town again.
20131029-162828.jpgVienna
Vienna is an elegant, opulent city, with wide boulevards, beautiful architecture, grand classical music and shopping for the rich and famous. But away from the central area, it is home to small excellent restaurants and coffee shops, concerts in historic venues and everyday people enjoying their lives.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Vienna captivated my interest and I would love to return. I would visit the Opera House, attend another concert and a church service in one of the beautiful churches, watch the Lipizaner Stallions practice or perform and spend an evening at a wine tavern. I would love to take a day cruise through the Danube Valley or return to visit the Christmas market in December!
20131029-163430.jpg Salzburg
The hills really are alive in Austria. Travelling through the countryside, especially with the fall foliage, was awe-inspiring – similar, and yet very different, from travelling through the wonder of our Rocky Mountains.

Salzburg shows a different side of Austria from Vienna. It has a well preserved old town, a foreboding fortress, beautiful gardens, pride in Mozart everywhere and the Sound of Music! But it also seems fresh, outdoorsy and fun!

We didn’t have enough time in Salzburg and I would love to return to visit the Fortress, Hellbrunn Castle, spend another evening at the Augustiner Braustubl and travel to the lakes district.
20131029-170157.jpg Rothenburg ob der Tauber
It was a treat to visit Rothenburg. This well-preserved medieval walled town is visited by 2.5 million tourists per year, and there is a reason why! It is magical, transporting you to the Middle Ages when it was a free imperial city and a major trading stop. There are sights to see, and we enjoyed visiting some of them, but it was such fun to just explore the many small narrow streets, walk the wall, wander through the beautiful countryside outside the wall and snap photos at every turn. The Nightwatchman’s Tour is a must, again accentuating the feeling of being in the Middle Ages while outlining the history of the town.

I think we covered most every street inside the walls of old Rothenburg, so as much as we loved Rothenburg, we probably wouldn’t return – unless it was to share this fabulous experience with someone who hadn’t previously visited.
20131029-170637.jpg Wurzburg
Wurzburg wasn’t even on our trip itinerary, but we had some time to kill enroute from Rothenburg to Frankfurt, so we stopped in and were pleased that we did. We only spent a few hours, so again my impressions are from a quick look. As we drove in and out of the city, it could have been most any large city anywhere – there appeared to be urban sprawl and we could see a city skyline of tall buildings (not something we had typically seen on this trip). The Old Town that we visited was a lively, downtown area with a mix of old and new and we enjoyed wandering there.

If I were to have some time to spare on a future trip beginning or ending in Frankfurt, I might again stop in Wurzburg and further explore the Residenz Palace and the Marienberg Fortress.
20131029-170951.jpgIt was a marvellous trip – we saw so many wonderful sights, learned so much history, ate great food, drank great beer, wine & coffee and walked many kilometres. We are so lucky to be able to take trips like this and I can hardly wait for next time! Stay tuned for the next stops along our long and winding journey!

Cheers,

Bev & Harvey

I might end up looking like a stuffed croissant…..

Hello blog followers,

It’s 10:45 pm in Berlin and we are just getting settled in for the night. For those of you who know us well, you can guess there won’t be a blog written tonight. We will chronicle today’s activities and get that posted at some point tomorrow….

In the meantime, we had another great day. A sneak peek….

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Stay tuned – details tomorrow.

Cheers,

B,H,D&L