Recent Highlights – Friends, Family, and Staying Cool

Time keeps ticking by out here, and we are really trying to pack it in and enjoy our last few months in Sicily. It’s been miserably hot here. Last summer wasn’t bad and I convinced myself that my 29 years in Sacramento really prepared me for heat, but, no. It’s hot. We’ve sucked it up and just run the AC all summer, and spent a good amount of time in the water.

We’ve had a few wonderful visitors out. Christy came back with us from Greece and her boyfriend Steve met us here, which was great! He booked his ticket literally one week before coming, I think he wins some sort of award for that.

IMG_5622With Christy and Steve, we visited the Turkish Steps. So beautiful, so much good swimming.

IMG_5631 IMG_6203 IMG_6202 IMG_5659We also went up to Lipari for a few days and rented a boat, which is amazing. We spent all day swimming and collecting more obsidian (the natural thing to do when you are shipping your belongings across the world in a few months). This time we brought the GoPro and got some amazing photos.

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IMG_6211I have a slight paranoia about swimming in the ocean, or any water where I can’t see the bottom or what’s around me, because I’m about 99% certain that there are sharks lurking at all times ready to eat me. However, the water here is SO CLEAR that I can swim in it with confidence that nothing is coming at me. I think in our two summers here I’ve spent more time in the ocean that my entire life put together.

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Ready to swim!

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Zero sharks.

My friend Kate also came to visit! Kate was one of my roommates in college and I’m so happy she was able to come spend time out here.

IMG_5853We spent a few days in Malta with my sister. It was hot there too, a big difference from when we went in January. We got upgraded to an ocean view room, spent time in the beautiful water, explored the little town of Mdina, and had some delicious meals.

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Ocean view!

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Mdina

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Malta’s coastline

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One of many delicious, beautiful meals

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Really looking forward to getting in that water

Christy flew home from Malta, and Kate returned with me to Sicily for about a week. We did some touring around here, including a boat ride around the Aeolian Islands to see Stromboli erupting. We saw one lava explosion, which I didn’t get a picture of, but seeing the smoking crater was pretty cool.

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Panarea

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Panarea

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Stromboli

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Smoking crater

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Ok, that’s just the moon, not lava.

Kate was flying out of Rome, so she booked her ticket to Rome from Catania a couple days early and I flew up there with her. We did some speed-sightseeing, utilized the air conditioned subway a lot, and had a great trip.

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Flying to Rome

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Rome

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I love carbonara

Back in Sicily, the weather has been mercifully changing. Thunderstorms have been rolling in for the afternoons, which I LOVE, and it gives us a nice break from the heat.

IMG_6166 IMG_6179And it makes me a bit less jealous when I get sent pictures from my family on our annual vacation to the Oregon Dunes. I’ll be there next year:)

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Greece – Athens and Crete

We just returned from a week in Greece, and while we are moving forward here in Sicily, I want to take a little time to write about our Greece trip. We planned this trip with our friend James, who has spent a lot of time in Athens and Crete on archeological digs. James was great to travel through Greece with. He thought of many great things for us to do, and was a wealth of information on the history and culture. We also met my sister there! Christy flew into Greece to spend the week with us, and then returned with us to Sicily to finish her visit. IMG_4959Our first stop was Athens. We rented a great little B&B near the acropolis and did our exploring from there. It was HOT in Greece, but we braved the sun and spent our first day at the Acropolis, Agora, and some of the other archeological sights. IMG_4912 IMG_4922The Acropolis is stunning. It sits on a hill overlooking the entire city. The original temples have suffered the wrath of time, but they are currently working on restoring it to it’s original splendor. It’s amazing to walk through it and think of what happened here. So much of our culture and political system comes from the Greeks, and this was the heart of it. IMG_4942 IMG_4943 IMG_4945I loved our walk around the ancient sites, just amazing. IMG_5004 IMG_5007 IMG_4971 IMG_4987 IMG_5046 IMG_5037 IMG_5094 IMG_5085IMG_5214We even got a little peek into the current dig they are doing at the Agora, where James used to work. IMG_5058We spent the rest of the evening eating wonderful food and trying new drinks – gyros, baklava, souvlaki, retsina, and rakomelo.

Day 2 in Athens was still hot, and we decided to spend it out on the island of Aegina. We took the subway to a ferry, and played cards for the 17 mile ride out to the island. Aegina is a relatively small little island, but was a rival of Athens in ancient times. We went rented scooters for the day, and explored the whole island. Scootering was super fun. I was nervous, but it’s a pretty chill island with relatively little traffic and good roads. IMG_5128 IMG_5139 IMG_5155We spent a few hours at a beautiful beach, and then had a wonderful seafood dinner before heading back to Athens. IMG_5150 IMG_5151 IMG_5182 IMG_5175We spent the following morning at the Acropolis Museum, which I highly recommend, before catching our flight to Crete. We rented a little house right on the coast, and had a really relaxing stay. We spent the afternoon drinking wine on the patio, and then walked up the road for an oceanfront dinner.

Early the next morning we left for a bus-bus-hike-boat-bus-bus day. It was long, but the 15k hike through Samaria Gorge was well worth it. The gorge runs through the southern part of Crete, and starts with a 3k walk down, followed by a flat 12k out to a little seaside town. IMG_5250 IMG_5267 IMG_5318 IMG_5297 IMG_5403 IMG_5311 IMG_5350 IMG_5437 IMG_5434 IMG_5385 IMG_5387 IMG_5400 IMG_5377  IMG_5408

The gorge has tons of freshwater springs (the water we bought locally was bottled there), so you are constantly replenished with cold, fresh water.IMG_5405The hike is amazing, and highly recommended. It takes a bit of planning and timing, or you can hire a guide, but it’s totally doable. We took our time and really enjoyed it – the crystal clear waters and sheer canyon walls are stunning. It ended with a quick dip in the sea, followed by a beautiful ferry ride. IMG_5504 IMG_5529
Our last day in Greece we spent lazing around the house, eating a long lunch, and lounging on the beach between swims in the waves. It was a perfect, relaxing day. IMG_5586 IMG_5592 IMG_5606We had a (super) early flight out of Crete, a 7 hour layover in Athens, and another layover in Rome before getting back to Catania. A long day of travel, but well worth it for our time in Greece.

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Boating around Lipari

Sometimes living on an island is so busy and hectic that you just have to go to a smaller island to enjoy some peace and relax.

Ok, not really, but we love going to the Aeolian islands just north of our bigger island. I’ve written about them a few times, and every time I go it’s such a perfect experience. Except for that one time bad weather cancelled our boats and we got stuck….but even that was a fun adventure.

The Aeolian Islands are a string of 7 little islands (think Hawaii, but much smaller), that are formed by a subduction zone. I’ve been to four of the seven islands, and each one is a little different. Stromboli’s two tiny towns are quiet, in contrast with it’s constantly spewing volcano. Panarea is small and beautiful. Vulcano has a lot of volcanic activity, which makes great, if smelly, sulfur baths and a really beautiful hike along the steaming crater. Then Lipari, the largest of the islands.

Lipari is geologically more complex than my basic college courses helped me understand, but it’s full of volcanic and human history. Lipari has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and has ruins dating back thousands of years. There are multiple volcanoes on the small island, which have created economic feasibility for the people in terms of fertile crop land, and exportable material. In 700 BC, one of the volcanoes erupted a massive amount of pumice. The pumice has been mined and exported up until just a few years ago, when UNESCO required the mining be halted. It left hundreds of workers jobless, but is probably the right choice to preserve the island.

After the pumice eruption were two obsidian flows. Obsidian from Lipari was mined during ancient times, and its presence all over the Mediterranean confirms ancient trading of the valuable commodity. Chunks of obsidian are used in the concrete paving the roads, and you find little pieces of it on hikes around the island.

Now, where was I? Our trip. We took the hydrofoil across to Lipari from Milazzo and were met by our Airbnb host at the port. He packed us into his Fiat Panda and drove us a couple minutes up to our house we rented for the weekend. We strolled around the darling town, had some lunch, drank some wine, and planned out our next day. We decided to rent a boat for the day and tour the island. There are a ton of beautiful areas and beaches that are difficult to access on foot, but by boat you can see all of the islands spectacular coastline. We hit up the grocery store to stock up on food and beer, and the next day we were on our way.

IMG_4432IMG_4436Our little boat was perfect for the four of us! The island only takes an hour or two to boat around, so we headed counter-clockwise, planning on just stopping wherever the water looked nice along the way.

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The captains

It didn’t take us long to find our first stop. The water was SO clear and inviting, we couldn’t resist jumping it. I’ve seen a lot of nice water in my past year here, but I think this one takes the cake. You could see the 30 foot deep bottom as clear as if it was right in front of your face.

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Heavenly

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I’m so in love with this water

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Enjoying a swim

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Panarea

Our next stop was just a little way up the coast at the White Beach. The beach is right at the base of one of the old pumice quarries, which were abruptly abandoned when UNESCO put a stop to it. There are buildings along the water that were also abandoned, and they’re a little spooky to walk through. Pieces of pumice float through the water as they’re washed off the hillside.

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Old pumice quarry

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Pumice floating in the water

Asa and Jenna swam to shore first to explore, while Sean and I waited on the boat. They were there quite a while, and kept holding things up and point excitedly at rocks. We couldn’t tell what they were talking about, but when the slowly swam back, we realized they’d found a ton of obsidian and were collecting it to bring back to the boat. Sean and I jumped in and took our turn on shore, picking through all the pieces of obsidian to find the best ones that were worthy of the swim back to the boat. We brought a ridiculous amount back, I almost drown myself as I was laughing at how many rocks I was swimming with.

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Our new rock collection

We boated the rest of the way around the island, stopping here and there for lunch or a swim. It was truly a perfect day on our own little boat exploring a beautiful island.

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Hiking, Swimming, Saints, and Fireworks

Summer is in full swing out here. The days are getting hot (although not as hot as I hear Sacramento has been!), the beach crowds are appearing, and the warm nights make for great evenings spent on our deck eating, drinking wine, and chatting the evening away.

It also means friends visiting! We just ended a visit with our friends Asa and Jenna, who stopped here for about 2.5 weeks as part of their two month trip through Europe. Asa and Jenna were wonderful guests, and we had a really lovely time hanging out at the beach, hanging around our house, and spending time enjoying the nice weather outdoors. I’ve been learning to slow my pace of life down (mostly by necessity because, let’s be honest, I don’t have a lot I have to be doing out here), so I really enjoy those nice, slow days.

There is a really beautiful hike that we’ve been wanting to do since we moved here down near Siracusa. The hike is in the Cavagrande nature reserve – a huge valley that was inhabited in paleolithic times. The walls of the valley are filled with tombs from the 10th and 9th century BC. It’s a really stunning area.

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Paleolithic tombs

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Cavagrande

At the bottom of the canyon is a river that pools into icy, beautiful swimming holes.

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A magical little world

IMG_4210 And, we stopped at this gem of a beach on the way back.

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Fontane Bianche

June 24th was the San Giovanni Batista festival in our town of Aci Trezza. San Giovanni is the patron saint of Aci Trezza and every year they honor him with a 3 day celebration in June. The festivities on the 24th start with a pantomime played out in the harbor. Three fishermen and a swimmer act out an exaggerated scene of fishing for swordfish, which is so important to this fishing village. They search and call for him, capture him, parade him around on their boat, and then he escapes. This happens three times until he escapes a final time and their boat sinks.

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Calling for the swordfish

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The crowd watching the event that’s happened every year since 1750

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Finally caught the swordfish

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Parading around the swordfish

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Sunken boat

The scene was so interesting to watch – this festival has happened every year since 1750, but the whole town still turns out to see it.

The the celebration then moves up to the church where the statue of San Giovanni is kept. The statute was carved in the 1700s by an unknown artist who locked himself inside to avoid distractions. He had food lowered to him through a hole in the roof so he didn’t have to leave and no one would see the statute until it was done.

The whole town gathers around the church, bands play, and fireworks are lit. The statute is brought outside, amid much anticipation. A big screen outside the church projects the scene inside as the statute is slowly carried out.

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Waiting for the statute

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Watching the progress from outside

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The statute emerges! And confetti!

All around, people pass their children through the crowd for the opportunity to kiss the statute.

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Passing their children up to kiss the statute

The statute is carried around town through the night. This is on our way back from dinner a few hours later. At midnight, the statute is returned to the church.

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Making its way through the town streets

One of the big mysteries of Sicily to me is fireworks. They are used quite abundantly here, and from our deck that overlooks a lot of the coastline, we see them really frequently. They’re used for the big obvious celebrations – New Year’s, Saint Agatha’s festival, Easter, etc., but mostly they’re used at what seem to be random times, all throughout the year. During the summer they are most concentrated, it’s not unusual for us to see fireworks 3 times a day starting at 8 am. Apparently darkness is not a requirement for fireworks here.

The San Giovanni festival, of course, had fireworks. This time we got to see them up close. In the daylight.

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Daytime fireworks

My birthday was the next day. We spent it in Taormina walking around and enjoying a nice dinner. We made it back home that evening in time for more fireworks from our deck. These ones were actually in the dark, and were quite a way to end my birthday.

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Thanks for the birthday fireworks, Sicily!

We had a few more days with Asa and Jenna, during which we headed up to Lipari for a couple nights. We had such a wonderful trip that it deserves its own postt. After our return from Lipari, our friend James flew in for a visit. James is spending a week or so in Sicily with us, after which we fly together to Greece for a week. My sister is also meeting us there, I can’t wait!

For the 4th of July we visited the temples of Agrigento, and then took a trip down to the Turkish Steps for a heavenly dip in the water. This is the first time I’ve successfully swam there, and I have to say it’s pretty unreal. The Turkish Steps are a beautiful rock formation of marl (a soft, sedimentary rock) along the sea and are perfect for summer swimming.

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That’s pretty much heaven, eh?

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Turkish steps

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Turkish steps

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Turkish steps

We did squeeze a little USA into our 4th. We had a burger BBQ, drank beers, and watched the Italian fireworks from our deck. We actually discovered that we could see the fireworks at the military base from there as well, which was pretty cool.

Asa and Jenna’s trip was finished with a day at Gambino Winery, one of our favorite places up on the slopes of Etna. They’re wonderfully welcoming there, and we always enjoy our visit (although a lot of that could be due to the copious amounts of wine).

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Gambino

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Amsterdam

Last week we took a 4 day trip up to Amsterdam with Sean’s sister Jenny before she flew home to the US. We picked Amsterdam kind of like we picked Barcelona – Jenny was flying straight home from wherever we went, so we just looked for a city with convenient, good priced flights for both her and us, and Amsterdam was the winner. It’s kind of fun picking vacations that way. There is a lot less pressure and expectation than going somewhere you’ve dreamed of your whole life. So far, it’s worked great for us. Barcelona was awesome, our trip to Cambodia, which we loved, was chosen because that was the only tour we could find that fit our time frame and budget, and Amsterdam gets an A+.

IMG_3966IMG_0772Amsterdam is situated on over 100 kilometers of canals, and is a almost perfectly flat, very walkable and bike-able city. The buildings ooze charm, the city is full of flowers, every road has a parallel bike path running next to it, the canals are beautiful, and overall, it’s just a lovely city. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of canals and buildings. It’s totally clean, the people are all very nice, and everyone we interacted with spoke perfect English.

IMG_0794 IMG_4004 IMG_4034 IMG_4084 IMG_4140 IMG_3994 IMG_0812 IMG_0791I think the city has a bit of a reputation of being filled with partying/drugs/prostitutes, but I found that to be entirely not the case. Marijuana is legal there, and there are coffee shops that sell it, but it’s used very causally and isn’t really in your face. Prostitution is legal there as well, but it seemed to be confined to the red light district. We took a stroll through there one evening (before it got too dark), it was filled with tourists and didn’t seem too wild. There were a lot of sex shops, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to describe the experience of walking by dozens of prostitutes in the shop windows next to you tapping on the glass to get your attention as “normal”, but it was as classy as you could possibly make that sort of thing. I can’t comment on what happens there after dark though, we made sure to be out of there by then.

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The red light district

We walked all over the city, did some shopping, sight seeing, museum visiting, and a lot of eating. It’s such a treat to go somewhere different and try all the food. We had Indonesian, Indian, and Dutch food, along with a lot of other snacks (stroopwafels! and lots of cheese).

IMG_4038 IMG_3986 IMG_0775The Anne Frank museum is in Amsterdam and is located in the secret annex where she and her family spent two years before being taken to concentration camps. The museum is really interesting and well done. The house is empty except for a few things, but there are pictures of how it looked while they lived there. They also have her original diary, along with other stories she wrote, stories about the people who took care of them while they lived in the annex, and interviews with her friends and father, who survived.

For more information on Amsterdam during the German occupation, we went to the Resistance museum. It told a really interesting story of people who joined the Nazis, people who resisted, and people who followed along. It has the stories of a lot of brave people who fought back, protested, and hid Jews and others who were at risk of being taken to camps. It also tells the harder story of people who joined the party, and those who complied. It makes you think about what you would do if something like that happened now, would you have the courage to risk your own life and fight back, or would you go along with it?

For our last day there, we rented bikes and cruised the city. I can’t believe how bike-friendly the whole place is. There are separate bike paths and bike lights for all big roads, and smaller roads have a bike lane with cars who are very respectful. There are more bikes on the roads than cars, and cycling is usually faster than driving.

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Everyone bikes here

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Our bikes

We biked out to a really wonderful lunch a little way out of the city. The restaurant was called De Kas and was recommended by a friend of Jenny. It’s located in a big greenhouse in a park and they grow all the produce that they serve. The restaurant is beautiful, and everything was mouthwatering. I highly recommend it.

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De Kas

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The best

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De Kas

We made a few more stops on the bikes, did some shopping, had a delicious Dutch dinner, and the rode our bikes through their public park, Vondelpark. The park is huge – 120 acres – and is beautiful! There is a huge bike path that goes through the whole thing with people running, walking, and biking. There are lots of ponds and lakes, play structures, art, and even an open air theater. It’s beautifully maintained, and it looks like the people respect it rather than trashing it. It was so fun cruising around on our bikes.

IMG_4153 IMG_4158Overall, Amsterdam was surprisingly wonderful! Delicious food, lots of good museums, good shopping and historical sights, and endless road and canals of beautiful buildings.

And then, home to beautiful Sicily.

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Doing New Things

I’ve lived on a relatively small island for 14 months now, with my main goal here being to travel and see new things. You’d think in that amount of time that I would have seen most of it, and seen everything in the places I’ve visited may times, but I’m always surprised to find how untrue that is. Since we do have a lot of guests, I find myself going to some of the same places over and over. I don’t really mind, because the places I tend to repeat are the places that I really like (Taormina, Syracuse, Catania’s market, Caltagirone, Cefalu, the Aeolian islands etc.), but I also try to add new things. It’s easy to do the same stuff over and over, but my goal with the people we have visiting this summer is to keep doing things that are new to me. We don’t have a lot of time left here, and there is about 50% of this island that I still haven’t seen. So, summer guests, get prepared to spend some time over on the west side of Sicily.  I think people have a better experience that way anyway, since it keeps me interested.

Sean’s sister Jenny spent the past couple weeks here, and her visit was a really good example of the things I have looked over since I tend to go on auto-pilot to the things I know about. Jenny’s visit was really nice. We had some good weather, Sean had a decent amount of time off work, and Jenny and I got to spend a lot of time together exploring, buying the island out of Haribos, Tic-Tacs, and ceramics, and eating as many cannoli as we could.

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Hiking in Cefalu

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Dinner out in Cefalu

We did some of my favorites of Taormina, Catania, Syracuse, and Cefalu, but I was surprised at the new things we discovered. In Catania, we went to the big castle that I’ve driven or walked by a few dozen times but never actually gone in to. It’s surprising well preserved and maintained, and houses an art museum with changing exhibits. Currently, a lot of Picasso’s works are featured.

We also spent the day down in Syracuse, where I discovered a few new things. First, the huge futuristic looking building that towers over the city is NOT, as I thought, some sort of odd, government building, it’s actually a church! I had no idea. It’s a rather odd looking church, I think. Very industrial and dark and plain, but kind of an interesting change from the other typical Italian churches. It also houses a statue of The Virgin Mary that supposedly wept for 4 days in 1953.

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Oddly enough, this is a church.

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Church of the future?

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The crypt

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Oh hey Agatha!

Also, there are catacombs in Syracuse! Right in the middle of the city. We visited them this time, and they’re really interesting. They’re built into the underground aqueducts and cisterns used by the Greeks, so they’re really quite spacious and nice. The catacombs contain about 20,000 tombs of early Christians, along with some carvings and frescoes that are still intact.

For a little side trip, we spent a couple nights in Cefalu and spent a day in Palermo, which, despite being the capital of this island I live on, I’d never spent any time in. Palermo is beautiful, and I really enjoyed our day there. The two most interesting things we saw were the Capuchin catacombs and the Palatine Chapel.

The catacombs there are one of the most unusual things I’ve ever seen, and definitely not for anyone easily spooked. The Capuchin monks believe that death should not be feared, and appear to have a much more open (honest?) relationship with death and the deceased than most do these days. Most catacombs you visit are empty, and I imagine there are some with bones still in them, but these catacombs are full of whole skeletons, fully dressed, many of which still have their hair and mummified skin. They were placed either in clear coffins, or in niches along the wall, so they hang on the wall next to you – so close that you could touch them if you wanted. The bodies were dehydrated and sometimes embalmed before being placed in the catacombs. Some are better preserved than others. Relatives of the deceased would return to the catacombs to visit their loved ones, or even join hands with the deceased in prayer. Can you imagine? The smell!  No photos were allowed, but here is a link to some images from Google, or a slightly unsettling description, (remember what I said about being easily spooked).

On a lighter note, the other highlight in Palermo was the Cappella Palatina. The chapel is located in the Royal palace, and was built under the Norman King Roger II. It is covered in gold sparkling mosaics, and honestly takes your breath away.IMG_3815 IMG_3827 IMG_3811 IMG_3820 IMG_3821

A few other photos from Jenny’s trip…

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Swordfish festival in Aci Trezza

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Catholic saints and Greek columns

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The toilets at the Villa Romana del Casale. Not exactly private.

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Capuchin cemetery. The Italian cemeteries are always so beautiful.

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Palermo’s cathedral

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Cefalu

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Cefalu

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Wine tasting

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Agrigento

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From Castelmola

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Tour of Italy: Sicily, Puglia, Florence, Massarosa

We had six friends come out to visit this month. We spent four days in Sicily, then a week in Puglia (the southeastern most part of Italy), a couple days in Florence, and a couple days on the coast visiting our friend Liz’s family.

The few days in Sicily were really fun. We had wonderful weather, and with seven people we had to hire a driver, which made things a lot easier on me. Our first day we spent on Lipari, one of the Aeolian Islands. We were almost foiled by a strike by the boat company (and here I’d been worried about the weather cancelling the boats), but they ended the strike the day before our trip, so we were good to go.

The day on Lipari was nice and much more relaxing than planned. I’d arranged for us to take a boat around some of the islands, but due to a miscommunication between me and the tour company (this time it wasn’t my language skills at fault, the guy had the date wrong), our trip was cancelled, our “quick” lunch before the boat trip was extended and wine was ordered. We spent the day exploring the town and relaxing by the pool, and then had a lovely seafood meal to end the day.

The next morning we set out on a hike up to one of the peaks on a point of the island. The day was perfectly clear, and the views from the hike were spectacular. All the wild flowers were in bloom, which made everything so colorful. It was so clear we could even see Etna, which is 50 miles away.

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Stromboli and Panarea in the distance

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You can see Etna’s white peak in the distance

The next day was spent in Taormina, where we were upgraded to an ocean/volcano view room. We wandered the town, shopped, and ate. That evening as we got back to our hotel, Etna had started erupting and we could see it from our room. It was far away and my camera skills suck, but it was pretty amazing. The following morning, it let off a big cloud of ash, that one I was able to photograph:)

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Etna releasing some ash

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Taormina’s ancient theater

From Taormina, we came back to our house and spent the evening in Catania before our flight the next morning to Puglia. I didn’t really have a lot of expectations for Puglia, but it is a very beautiful region of Italy. It didn’t seem to be touristy or crowded at all, everything was really affordable, and it has a lot to offer. There are tons of darling little towns with a lot of interesting history, they make great olive oil and wine, and they food is spectacular. They’re known for their mozzarella and burrata cheese (my fave!), and have wonderful meat and produce. We saw quite a lot in our week there, but I’ll talk about a few of the highlights.

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I love you, burrata

Our hotel was in Gioia del Colle, centrally located in the region and known for their mozzarella cheese. Gioia is a pretty small town, but had some really wonderful restaurants and quite a few churches and sights to see.

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Making mozzarella

The first place we visited was the city of Matera, an ancient town known for the “Sassi”, cave homes that are carved into the rock. People lived in these homes up until the mid 1900s, at which point the government deemed them uninhabitable and people were given new homes and forced to move into the modern city. It turned into the slums for a while, but is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Matera

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Matera

We also saw the town of Alberobello, which is famous for it’s Trulli buildings. Trulli homes are built from stones, but no mortar, in order to make them easy to dismantle. They were built this way to avoid property taxes – if a tax inspector came, the home could be easily knocked down and claimed to be just a pile of rocks. People still live in some of the homes, but the rest are converted to shops or hotels for tourists. The town looks like something from a fairy tale.

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Darling little Trulli

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Trulli houses

We also visited a massive cave that was 3 km long, a huge octagon shaped castle, whose use is unclear, old Roman towns, and beach towns.

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Castel del Monte

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Roman theater under the city

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Massive cave

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Lovely churches

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Puglia has beautiful coastline

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A little cold for swimming, but beautiful

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Hand made olive wood spoons

Being the food-oriented person that I am, my favorite part of every day was lunch. Our guide had a stellar restaurant picked out for us every day with the full Italian meal. A dozen plates of antipasti, pasta, meat or fish, all the wine you could drink, and followed by digestives (aka more booze), dessert, and coffee. The staff at each restaurant was wonderful, and at one we even got to tour their garden before the meal. I don’t think there was a single bad thing we ate. If you ever go to Puglia, make sure to ask me for restaurant recommendations!

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Seafood lunch

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All delicious things

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I ate most of it before i remembered to photograph it

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Appetizers

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Cheese, meat, wine. Perfect.

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Olive trees, and old glass containers used for wine storage

From Puglia, we took the train to Florence. We had planned to fly, but the airline “delayed” our flight by 48 hours (some delay), so we opted for the train instead. The ride was beautiful, all through the Italian countryside. Florence was beautiful, though rainy. We saw a few museums, toured the Duomo and some of their other churches, climbed up to Piazza Michelangelo, and ate some wonderful food (and gelato!)

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Good thing the hotel had umbrellas

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Florence

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Florence

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Inside the duomo

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Florence from above

Sean had to go home after Florence (thanks for making money!) but the rest of us rented a big van and drove toward the coast to Massarosa, where Liz’s family lives. They run a cute little bed and breakfast that we had all to ourselves. Her family is typical Italian – outgoing, funny (I think, I only understood about 30% of their words), and incredibly welcoming. They fed us wonderful homemade food almost every night, which was such a treat.

Our first day in Massarosa we went wine tasting in the Chianti region. It was a wet overcast day, but everything was green and beautiful.

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Wine tasting

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More food! And wine!

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Tuscany

We also went to Lucca, a medieval walled city that is really well preserved. We visited Liz’s cousin’s wine and food shop down near the beach, and became regulars at the local cafe that had wonderful appetizers included in your drink purchase.

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Lucca

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Walking the wall around Lucca

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Food and wine at Liz’s family’s shop

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Summer must be coming

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Yum.

Our last day in Italy we spent at the Cinque Terra, a string of five towns perched on the water. Access to the towns is very limited, you either have to take a train, a boat, or hike in. We started in Monterosso and hiked south to Vernazza and Corniglia. The trail is beautiful, and the town are colorful and darling.

IMG_3418 IMG_3424 IMG_3444 IMG_3466The next day I flew home to Sicily and our friends flew back to the US. It was such a fun trip with lots of variety, good food, and good friends.

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