Sean was off work quite a bit the past few days so we were able to take some trips around the island and do a little planning for the next month or so. He was able to take four days off in June, and with his normal 3 and 4 day sets of off days surrounding it, he has 11 days off in a row. Our plan right now is to take that time, rent a car, and drive up to Switzerland, stay a few days, and either drive or take a ferry part of the way back. We haven’t figured out all the details yet, but we’re pretty excited about it.
We went to Taormina again a few days ago and drove all the way up to the little town perched on the cliff above it, Castelmola. It’s a long, windy road, but the views and the darling town at the top make it worth it. We have a bad habit of getting to places right at 2pm when everything is shutting down for the afternoon. We will come back here when things are a little more lively.
A little way down the road toward Taormina there is a small church called “Madonna della Rocca.” It’s a small sanctuary built into a grotto in the stone. The inside is small, but spectacular, and the view of the coastline is amazing. I think this wins the award for the most unique church we’ve seen so far.
On Monday we had tickets to see Agamemnon at the Greek Theater in Syracuse. We knew we wouldn’t be able to understand much of what they were saying, but it seemed foolish to pass up the opportunity to see a 2500 year old Greek play in a 2500 year old Greek theater. The play was in the evening, so we spent the afternoon in Syracuse. Again, we got there right at 2pm, but we wandered around the center of the ancient city, and island called Ortygia. It’s filled with tiny narrow roads surrounded by buildings that are still inhabited (and a few that are crumbling and deserted) along with small hotels and restaurants. The town center is amazing and perhaps the most beautiful I’ve seen here. It’s built around the Cathedral, which is a pretty interesting building. It was originally the temple to Athena, and you can still see the columns that are the structure on the inside. The Christian church was later built around it, and for a brief time during the Arab period here it was even a Mosque. After an earthquake in 1693 that destroyed much of Sicily it was restored in more Baroque style. So it’s had quite a history. I think it’s worth noting that a LOT of Sicily is very Baroque – I’m assuming it’s because so much of it was rebuilt during that period after the earthquake.
The play that evening was pretty cool. There were a lot of schools there and all the kids seemed to be really into it (even the teenagers!). And although I would normally think something like that would be a very touristy thing, there seemed to be mostly Sicilians there. As a side note – most of the time here Sean and I have been able to not completely stand out as Americans. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it’s because we have dark hair and somewhat dark skin (look at all the dark hair in my pictures below). But this day, for whatever reason, something we were wearing screamed “American” and we were harassed by everyone trying to get us to book boat tours or buy what they were selling. Maybe it was the flip flops, maybe the long dress I was wearing? We’ll do more research to figure it out.
One of the big draws of summer here is the beaches. It gets painfully hot so everyone flocks to the coastline. A major disappointment for us is that most of the beaches, at least on this side of the island, require you to pay. They have “Lidos” set up so it costs 10 Euro or so, and maybe they give you an umbrella or a chair, or sometimes you have to pay extra for that. The nicer ones have little restaurants and showers and changing areas, but they’re expensive. Our landlords told us they could get us a membership to one for 340 euro each for the season…so basically $1,000 for the two of us to have unlimited beach access. And that doesn’t include chairs or umbrellas. I think that’s nuts, so we’ve been on a mission to scope out the free beaches.
On Sunday we had a funny/uncomfortable/little scary moment when we searched for the free beach I’d heard of just south of the harbor in Catania. We drove along the beach road and found what we thought was the only access point that was south of the harbor but before all the Lidos started. The parking area was a little weird, kind of off in the bushes and there was a lot of trash around; but the roadways here are kind of full of trash anyway, so we parked. As we were getting out of the car, a very tan, very large man in a very small swimsuit (not much was left to the imagination) was walking to his car. We got out and walked toward the beach down this little path. There were a lot of solo men standing around, some in swimwear, some not, and when we got to the beach area it was the same thing, only single men laying on the beach. Some clothed, some not. We immediately determined this was not where we were supposed to be, and we walked back and started looking for another access point to the beach. We started walking further down but there only seemed to be a lot of men standing around about 15 feet apart from each other, and staring at us. I don’t know what exactly was going on there, thoughts of Mafia were running through my head, but it made me pretty uncomfortable and it was pretty clear we were not supposed to be there. One of the pointed us away and we high tailed it back to our car and left. So we will not be returning to that part of the beach.
Luckily, we found two much nicer, much more family friendly, free beaches just south and just north of us. The one below is my favorite. The water is crystal clear and the little pebbles kind of feel like sand, but get left at the beach rather than tracked back to the car. Sean made rock castles, I worked on my much needed tan.
Yesterday, Sean was back at work so I attended a ricotta cheese making class. We went to a farm south of us where they make ricotta cheese. This particular places has won many awards for the quality of their ricotta. It was pretty delicious. They raise and milk their own sheep there, and then make and package the ricotta. We got to watch the whole process from milk to cheese, and were the fed a lunch featuring the ricotta they’d made that day.
Ricotta literally means “re-cooked” and is made in two steps. First, the milk is mixed with rennet, which curdles it, and then the liquid is pressed and the solids are removed. This makes “tuma”, which is a step in the cheese making process, but can also be eaten on it’s own. They made fried tuma for us, it was so good. You dip it in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, like making fried chicken, then fry it in a pan of oil for a minute or two. The resulting product is simple and fantastic. Sorry for the blurry photo, I was impatient and wanted another bite.
The next step is to boil it, which then makes it re-cooked, or, Ricotta.
Ricotta is used very frequently here, and it’s often served sweet. I’ve discovered ricotta gelato, which is divine. But my favorite, along with everyone else, is the cannoli. They served some home made cannoli to us that day. I don’t have a picture of the finished product because I ate it too quickly. I did buy some ricotta from them though and will be attempting to make my own cannoli.
All in all, it was a delicious day.