Over, under, through….

Monday was travel day for us – leaving Sicily is bittersweet. We very much enjoyed the small sampling of Sicily that we experienced. The sites were interesting and the people were so very friendly. But we are quite looking forward to our next and final stop on this trip, the Amalfi Coast.

To start our day – huzzah! She has emerged! We were able to finally view the summit of the looming Mount Etna! 20140304-165313.jpg We of course had to once again travel by ferry to leave the island of Sicily, but this time it was a smaller, open ferry. 20140304-165518.jpgToday, we travelled ~600km, on the Autostrade, through a wide variety of terrain – seacoast, plains, hills, valleys and mountains. You will recall I promised to count the numbers of bridges and tunnels we encountered. That may have been a mistake on my part, as it became quite tedious. But I persevered and I bring you the information that you have all been waiting for. 20140304-170021.jpg We travelled through 127 tunnels, totalling 69 km, and over 331 stretches of elevated roadway, measuring 60 km. That is over 20% of our trip. The shortest tunnel was 42 m long and the shortest bridge was 10 m. The longest were 2.4 km and 1.8 km. The tunnels are through hills and mountains and even under ancient ruins. 20140304-172935.jpgThe bridges span dips, valleys, gorges, streams and rivers. All in all, it is a feat in road building. However, as you can see in the signs, each tunnel or bridge is named and a sign is erected at each end listing the name and length. Does this seem like a make-work project to anyone else, as it does to me? I think the time and money could be better spent on the myriad of construction projects we encountered where there appeared to be no activity occurring. Just my opinion.

As we neared Sorrento, Sally led us through a maze of small, narrow, very congested (once again with both moving and parked cars, scooters and pedestrians) streets in towns that we have no idea where or what they were. We are unsure if this was the easiest way – or just the dreaded GPS ‘fastest route’.

But we made it safely to our hotel. I must commend my husband’s driving skills. I was stressed just being a passenger, while he remains calm, manoeuvring the car through the narrowest and trickiest predicaments!

Our hotel is fabulous! I am always anxious, having booked on hotels.com and relying on on-line reviews. All of our hotels on the trip have turned out to be great, but we definitely saved the best for the last. It was so nice to be greeted with smiles and information, to hand over the car keys for someone to handle the car, and to have a distinguished gent named Francesco get us settled in our room. 20140304-171955.jpg After a bit of a break in our room, we hunted down a restaurant for dinner. Our bruschetta, salad, seafood fusilli and gnocchi were good, but certainly not up to the standard of our dinner from the night before. Ah well, it was close and they did finish our meal with a shot of limoncello. 20140304-173321.jpgCheers,

B&H

PS – another note on Harv’s driving. When we were in Germany, he recorded speeds of 200 kph on the autobahn. Our 1 litre, 3 cylinder Fiesta isn’t quite up to that action, but he did get it wound up a bit today. 20140304-172453.jpg

Mountain of Mystery

Today we went for a Sunday drive. We drove around Mount Etna.

At 3329 m, Mount Etna is Italy’s highest mountain south of the Alps and the largest active volcano in Europe. It is in a constant state of activity. The first recorded eruption was in about 1500 BC, with the most devastating event in 1669 when 12000 people were killed. More recently, spectacular eruptions and ash clouds in 2002 and 2007 have caused mountain infrastructure damage and airport closures.

We have yet to see the top of Etna. Despite driving around the entire mountain base, and an excellent view from our hotel parking lot, the top has remained mysterious, shrouded in a veil of cloud and smoke. 20140303-220805.jpg We travelled today through a number of small towns, ranging from rough, work-a-day Paterno to Randazzo, with its medieval town centre. We passed huge groves of orange trees, fichi d’India (prickly pears) and pistachios (and piles of trash).

At times, the landscape was rugged, with piles of lava rock and stunted trees.

As we drove through the towns, we noted Sunday morning gatherings of Italian men on the streets. Where were all the women? At church? At home cooking? 20140303-221434.jpg Many towns were also preparing for Carnevale celebrations, with children in costume.

In Randazzo, we enjoyed wandering the near deserted streets of the medieval town centre. 20140303-222200.jpg Then we drove up the hill and picked up some strawberries from a market truck to enjoy with the pastries and bananas we had in our snack pack. 20140303-222318.jpgWe could have also purchased most any kind of bird. How interesting! 20140303-222440.jpgWe headed back toward the coast, passing through lush, tropical terrain, dotted with ancient ruins, piles of lava rock and terraced vineyards.

We travelled a bit north on the coastal ‘highway’ to the area of Taormina. This is Sicily’s most popular summer resort and the abundance of grandiose hotels attests to the number of high-rollers and celebs who are said to frequent the area.

Our destination was the Teatro Greco, the most dramatically situated Greek theatre in the world. This amphitheater was built in the third century BC and has been improved to allow for its summer use in international arts and film festivals. The views of Mount Etna and the coast are spectacular and the intact condition of parts of ruins are amazing. 20140303-223033.jpg20140303-223155.jpgAs we left the Teatro, the community’s Carnevale celebrations were in full swing. The celebrations will continue until Tuesday, after which lent will commence. 20140303-223408.jpgFrom Taormina, we travelled the very scenic coastal road back to out hotel, encountering the parking madness near Acireale as we passed.

After a bit of a rest at the hotel, we were surprised to find once again an evening rain storm. Waiting until the fashionable hour of 8 pm, we drove to a nearby restaurant, La Polena, recommended by the hotel. We were of course the first patrons of the evening – others arrived slowly over the next hour!

The restaurant staff had very limited English but through hand gestures, their English, our tiny bit of Italian – and pictures of food on the waitress’ iPhone, we managed quite well.

We ordered our sparking water and red wine – never a problem there. Then they brought us a plate of deep-fried prawns and fish balls – very tasty (sorry, in my excitement, forgot a picture). Then a plate with 4 critters in shells – no idea what they were, and probably just as well as I don’t think we would order them again. Somewhat tasteless but sort of crunchy and chewy in an odd way. But this was followed by another plate of delicacies – scampi, shrimp in various ways, tuna, smoked salmon, thinly sliced fish of unknown origin, and oddly a mixture of what seemed to be mashed peas. It was all quite delicious! Not having ordered any of this, we had no idea what our bill would look like.
For our primo piatto, I ordered Spaghetti Vongola and Harvey had Risotto Imperial. My dish excellent and the risotto was filled seafood and the flavor I recognize from crab imperial. We declined the secondi as we were both quite satisfied at this point.

Howevet, we did share a “sweet” – which turned out to be a type of lava cake – not sure of the filling but it was delicious, ice cream and fruit. 20140303-223844.jpg

We were pleasantly surprised when we asked for the bill. €35. Apparently the cover charge of €1,50 each must have included the bottled water, the bread and all of the delicious appetizers!!

Feeling very pleased with our dinner, we made our way back to the hotel. It was a delightful day! Hopefully, before we leave tomorrow, Mount Etna will show her summit.

Cheers,

B&H