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

Where is McDonalds when you need it?

The rain stopped overnight and we awoke to a brilliant blue sky and blazing sunshine. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and took a brief walk by the beach. 20140228-195545.jpgThen it was time to check out, hop in the Fiesta and hit the road. Interestingly, there is an excavated ruin in the parking garage of the hotel. They really are everywhere. 20140228-195647.jpgWe travelled on the Autostade for about 200 miles to the east coast of Sicily – the Ionian Sea. About halfway there, we stopped at the hill town of Enna. Italy’s highest provincial Capitol, Enna presents a dramatic sight, perched at 931 m high atop a precipitous mountain. 20140228-195748.jpg Contrary to the hill towns we visited previously in Tuscany, Enna is home to 28,000 people, a university and a thriving modern town. The views from all edges of the town are breathtaking! 20140228-195832.jpg Enna has another amazing cemetary – resembles a housing area, with crypts of multiple stories. 20140228-195921.jpgShortly after leaving Enna, we stopped for a quick lunch at our favorite roadside establishment on our previous Italy trip – Autogrill!! While not of the mammoth proportions of some of our favorite locations, Harvey confirmed the cappuccino was excellent. We missed our Autogrill pals, Kristin & Justine! 20140228-200012.jpgSally took us on a circuitous route to our hotel, down narrow lanes in the centre of Acireale. We are certain there was a more direct route to the Ibis Styles Hotel and will check that out before venturing out in the car.

Harv was feeling a bit under the weather when we arrived so he had a nap while I blogged and did some CSTM website updates. When he woke up, we went for a walk to a neighbouring ‘shopping centre’. Not finding anything that looked quick to eat there, we had the hotel kitchen whip up a sandwich and settled in for the night.

Harv is now watching his new favorite TV show – it’s about two cops (he is calling them Starsky & Hutch) and is entirely in Italian – but he seems to know what is going on and is enjoying it. Thank goodness for my iPad!

Tomorrow is the carnival celebration! We saw some floats on our Sally journey through town and they looked amazing.

Cheers,

B&H

When it rains, it pours

Cefalu was founded on a steep promontory along the Tyrrhenian Sea. The town has retained its medieval appearance set against the backdrop of La Rocca (the Rock). 20140228-172936.jpgAfter breakfast at the hotel, we set out to explore the town. We strolled along the beach, where some hearty elderly Italian men were taking a dip in the chilly sea waters (of course, in their speedos). Harvey took a moment to draw Kristin’s trademark happy face! 🙂 20140228-173054.jpgAs we walked through the old town streets, we came upon the famous Lavatoio, a stone fountain known as U’Ciumi. This area was used for washing clothes until as recently as a few years ago. 20140228-173216.jpg Porta Marina is the only remaining city gate of the four that once afforded access to the town. A fun thing to watch were many school children (middle school to high school age) who were dashing around the old town on a type of scavenger hunt. It was also interesting to see the great debate among the workmen and by-standers on some minor work being done to a sign on the jetty wall. 20140228-173329.jpg We continued along the seafront, which led us past the fisherman’s marina and around La Rocca. 20140228-173427.jpg As we neared the end of our circle, we encountered La Rocca cemetery, a large walled complex. It was a wonderful find. The size and grandeur of these family crypts was amazing and my camera was busy. 20140228-173534.jpgWe made our way back to the Piazza Duomo, which was filled with the visiting students having their lunch. We had wanted to see the interior of the cathedral, but unfortunately didn’t hit the right times (shortened in the off- season). 20140228-173647.jpg Cefalu has a number of other churches dating from the 17th century including Chiesa del Purgatorio with its Baroque exterior door decorations. 20140228-173752.jpgAfter our long walk, it was time for a late lunch. We enjoyed sandwiches sitting along the seawall. We took a break in the day, hanging out at the hotel doing some blogging and photo organization. Harv also stopped in for brochures at the Fiat dealer, as apparently he can read car brochures in any language! The internet connection in our room ranged from poor to non- existent so I had to spend quite a bit of time at this comfortable spot in the hallway. 20140228-174027.jpg Around 6 pm, we headed out for a walk – to our surprise, it was pouring rain! So back for our rain jackets and umbrellas and off we went. The passeggiata was somewhat deterred by the rain, although a few hearty soles were out, including costumed children. After about an hour of walking in the rain, we had enough and decided to return to the hotel. On our way in, we noticed a pizzaria directly across the street, with the very Italian name of White Horse Pizzaria. We decided that would be our dinner spot if the rain continued. It did, so around 8 pm, we dashed across the street and joined many of the locals for dinner.

Our antipasti (carpaccio of bresaola, rocket and Parmesan) and our pizza of tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala (which by the way comes from the milk of water buffalo) and Italian salame were delicious and accompanied by a 375 ml. bottle of Corvo rosso (this was a much smarter choice than the 1 litre we ordered last night). 20140228-174127.jpg It was a delightful day in Cefalu!

Cheers,

B&H

Is it Halloween? Christmas? July?

Wednesday was a travel day. We were up quite early to take leave of the Hotel Agora. 20140227-152446.jpgSally behaved today and led us well, over the 700 kms to Cefalu, Sicily. We travelled on the Autostrade, and witnessed Italian road building at its best. The highway made its way past Mount Vesuvius and south through a mountain range. And it literally went through the range. We climbed in altitude but kept quite a straight path as we passed through what must have been hundreds of tunnels and over hundreds of ‘bridges’ ( those being stretches of elevated roadway). On our return journey next week, I plan on counting the number and accumulated length (as they give that information at the beginning of each) of the tunnels and bridges. Stay tuned for that exciting bit of news! 20140227-152941.jpgIt was a brilliantly sunny day with temperatures reaching 20 C at one point. As we neared Reggio Calabria, we passed acres of orange groves, the oranges a vibrant color in the sun.

Sicily is of course an island so we needed to take a ferry from Reggio Calabria to Messini. This added a bit of excitement to the day – especially as all signs were in Italian and a biglietto (ticket) booth was not obvious to purchase a fare, etc. So we followed the other cars and when we got to the front of the boarding line, the fellow just sent me scampering over to the biglietto kiosk. The strait is quite narrow so it was a short, but enjoyable, 30 minute crossing. 20140227-153153.jpgArriving in Cefalu, we located the Artemis Hotel and I ran in while Harv circled the block, there being no obvious place to park. The underground parking garage is reserved for ‘suite guests’ – not the regular room we had reserved. But I charmed the young man at the desk into letting us park there – I’m sure it was my charm, not the fact that it is low season and the majority of the suites are probably empty. 20140227-153405.jpgThe hotel and our room are lovely. After settling in, we headed to the ‘old town’, just a couple of blocks away. I’ll give more details on Cefalu tomorrow.

It was a very pleasant evening and the local people were out for the evening passeggiata, strolling the streets and visiting with their neighbours. Many of the children were in costume, carrying bags of confetti. We believe this has to do with it being carnival season, but must delve into the custom a bit more. 20140227-153635.jpgWe joined the stroll for a while, checking out restaurants, which of course were not open at this early time of 7:30 pm?!? At around 8, we chose a likely looking place that actually already had some other patrons (probably tourists as it was still a bit early for locals). It was an excellent choice. We were quite hungry at this point, having had a panini at 1 pm and just a couple snacking items since that time.

We shared appetizers of bruschetta and an extremely flavourful Carpaccio of mushrooms, tomatoes and rocket with Parmesan gratin. I then enjoyed ‘Risotto ai Frutti di Mare in Cartoccio’ – and it was abundant in Frutti di Mare – shrimp, mussels, clams & squid. Delicious! Harvey meanwhile tackled his Spaghetti alla Vongole – spaghetti and clams enhanced with olive oil, garlic & parsley. It was also superb. Accompanied by the house red wine and followed by complimentary chilled limoncello, it was a great meal! The only odd thing was the background music – Frank Sinatra – nice, but Jingle Bells??? The staff spoke little English so perhaps had no idea…..20140227-153921.jpgWe strolled back to the hotel and called an end to a good day!

Cheers,

B&H