June 17th-23rd: Sicily.
First of all, I apologise for the huge delay. We’ve been having trouble formatting wordpress.com. Hopefully i have it sorted now, but we’ll see.
During his conference, D met up with a friend of his boss, a Catania resident named Pino. After the conference and along with a small group of other foreigners, Pino escorted us onto Europe’s tallest active volcano, Mt Etna. It was cloudy at the peak, so we skipped going to the top, avoiding the 35euro charge for the chairlift. Instead, we were treated to a pasta lunch in the restaurant, then descended back to Catania.
Our hotel was different this time – the Suite Inn Catania – and was closer to the main square and incidentally opposite the food poisoning restaurant. It was a nice hotel, but the concierge on the second night was a slacker who gave us dodgy directions and didn’t man the desk despite us telling him we expected a phone call. It was an early start the next day as Pino took us to Syracuse. We wandered around a Greek amphitheatre, tombs, a slave camp and Roman amphitheatre. A hot summer was just beginning in Sicily, so we took a break for granita before touring around the town, taking in the baroque architecture, beautiful coastline and a gorgeous cathedral. That night Pino’s wife, Angela, cooked us dinner at their home, and I tried a number of spirits – Cinnamon liqueur, Limoncello, local Sicilian red wine, and a few others. Note: for the lovers of big ‘americana’ lattes- you cannot get a decent one here – they taste foul. I have taken to ordering ‘italiana’ style, which is just the espresso shot, then putting some sugar in that (I saw real Italians doing it, so its ok), which is actually very enjoyable once you get used to it.
We departed for Palermo by bus, this took approximately 3 hours. Our hotel was the Hotel Europa, in the designer shopping district – Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Prada – we even walked past a Bvlgari event. We headed to crowded Mondello Beach that afternoon, where we were pushed to find some sand to relax on, but the water and view were spectacular. The bus ride back has unfortunately led me to the conclusion that Sicilian teenage boys are amongst the worst in the world. Rude, inconsiderate and stupid. A theory only confirmed when one jumped and yelled at me the following day for no reason (To be fair, I do see this in Australia also… what do they think they are achieving? Someone enlighten me!) On Monday I was left to my own devices, as D was meeting a professor at the uni. I did what I do best – Shop! Unfortunately, Monday mornings are slow for shopping, with many remaining closed until late in the afternoon. I did manage to buy two tops and a scarf from Sisley and Zara. Returning to the hotel, I rested until later, when I ventured out to find board shorts for D. I found a few labels I liked that are not available in Australia, perhaps when I open my store I will try to stock them? D was shown the Palazzo Steri and the Cappella Palatina(Palatine Chapel) as well as a few other beautiful churches, and on Tuesday we set out, map in hand to find a few more. I find it sad to see such beautiful sites in disrepair, and on dirty streets.
Over the previous few nights I had been craving risotto and prawns, and I got lucky that night when the chef at La Dispensa dei Monsu cooked up a lemon and prawn risotto especially for us. The entrée was fried pizza pocket/parcels – Buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and lemon with ricotta were delicious, spinach and other vegetables was a little too bitter. A train to St Stefano di Camastra filled Wednesday morning and part of the afternoon. It is a beautiful seaside town, and our hotel had an exceptional view. Unfortunately, the staff service at the hotel tainted our stay. We will be leaving a negative review on expedia.com.
It was then back onto the train to Messina. The train wraps around the coast, with a view of the Mediterranean on one side, and country Sicily on the other, quite spectacular.
Messina, the Gateway to Sicily, is a cleaner town than we have seen thus far, although not without its seedy areas. Our map had a walk path marked on it, taking us past the pretty churches and monuments (also up some very questionable staircases) and non-existent fountains.
As our second week ends, we leave Sicily.