Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Our final week in Italy saw us traveling from the Aeolian Islands via ship to Naples, then on to Rome for another stay with ‘i cugini’.  The Siremar ship from Lipari was an overnight trip that departed at 9.30pm and arrived in Naples the next morning.

We called into the port at the active Volcanic island of Stromboli at about 10.30 and were delighted by a light show when we were pulling away from the island. The volcano was grumbling and throwing a beautiful orange glow into the sky above.  This continued every few minutes until we were too far away to see it any more.

The voyage was smooth enough, but I felt a bit green whenever I lifted my head from the bunk.  But in the morning we could see Capri and the Amalfi Coast and, as we were then in the gulf of Naples, the rocking slowed a bit.  On arrival in Naples we stored our bags for the day and headed for the city to see the sights of Spaccanapoli, Santa Lucia & Chiara and Toledo, eat sfogliatelli, indulge in Pizza and beer, and generally enjoy the crazy chaos that is Napoli!


Futbol rules

Maybe pizza rules? The classic Margherita.

The ubiquitous Padre Pio - revered throughout Southern Italy

At the end of our big day in Naples we headed for Rome. Laundry, repacking and a little sightseeing were on the agenda. We did Rome once by night, accompanied by Manu, Giulia and Pasquale.

'I cugini' - Manu and Giulia - on the Rome Metro

Pas - on the Rome Metro looking at us like we are just a little bit crazy!

And we did Rome another time by day with Giulia who probably enjoyed the English cemetery more than is healthy for a 20-something woman! But we each found something  quite surprising that captured us. For me it was the grave on Gregory Corso, Beat poet.

Gregory Corso - buried in Rome near Shelley and Keates

La Boca de la Verita - cugina Giulia

More Religiose

I have been so fortunate to have ten weeks travelling in Italy with my big sister Annie then with my husband Andrew. We have been constantly amazed at the wonderful people we have met. Italy will continue to be a passion for me and I vow to continue my study of the language.

Thanks  go Giulia, Manu, Pasquale, Marina, Alice, Cinzia, Ilaria, Giovanni and Maria-Luisa in Rome.  And thanks to Walter, Adriana, Stefano, Sabrina and Anna-Maria in Roseto degli Abruzzi.

It was hard to leave Rome and say “arreviderci” to our cousins, so we just said “ci vediamo” – see you later.

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Milazzo is a little town on the north coast of Sicily with a very busy port, a Spanish castle and a pretty Spanish district.

Castle - Milazzo Sicily

We stayed a night at a B & B called il Vicolo. This is a tidy house with a common lounge/kitchen and clean, stylishly decorated rooms. Not many restaurants were open during our one night stay (it was an off-season Monday) but just as we were about to give up looking, we spotted La Casalinga, off the main drag in a side lane. The spaghetti and crab that I ate was one of the finest I have ever had.

Spaghetti al Granchio - at La Casalinga, Milazzo

The next morning we headed off to the Aeolian Islands on a ferry. We decided to stay on the biggest of the islands, Lipari. It was beautiful and not at all crowded. Some of the restaurants were closed for a break. I can’t imagine what the high season crowds would do to this little place.

En route, we passed the slightly sulfuric smelling Island of Vulcano. You could see the steam of the volcanic activity.

Vulcano, Aeolian Islands

Dramatic cliffs of Lipari with Vulcano in the distance

We did a one and a half hour drive around the island with a local driver and could see Mount Etna on the mainland plus the islands of Vulcano, Panarea and Stromboli in the distance. Thanks to the local volcanic activity Pumice and obsidian can be found in good quantities. Pumice mining is a big activity on the island and we passed a big pumice mine on our drive. There were many shops selling pumice for cosmetic use, chunks of obsidian and obsidian jewelery.

Lipari is very relaxed and charming off-season and we were often the only ones strolling the back lanes and hills, though there was a constant stream of activity at the two ports that flank the hill upon which sits the Spanish fortification of the 1500s (built on top of an older Greek acropolis).

The fortress and Marina Corto - from boat on arrival to Lipari

Quiet back lanes of Lipari

Marina Lunga - Lipari

Male bonding, Lipari style - fishermen repairing their nets

The real treat though was the night we left Lipari on a 12 hour overnight ferry ride to Napoli. We pulled into the tiny port of Stromboli about 10.30. Andrew went up on deck to watch the arrival and came running back to the cabin to tell me that you could see the active volcano of Stromboli lighting up the sky.  Out the port-hole we had a perfect view of the orange glow every few minutes. It went pitch black and just the clear starry sky was visible for a few minutes until the next display of orange light. It was pretty special. Some of the best memories you just can’t capture on camera.

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Il caffè…

Italians love their coffee. We are certainly not slouches in the coffee department either, so while in Italy we have taken advantage of the high quality of the espresso and macchiato made here.  On occasion we have had a cappuccino or a caffe latte but find them too milky and lacking in coffee taste. Two notable exceptions are the Cappuccino made by Dani at Hotel Aetna 316 in Catania, and Guiseppe of Cafe del Porto (also owner of Il Vicolo B & B, highly recommended) in Milazzo.

Coffee, of course, goes hand in hand with pastries and Andrew and I have sampled our share along the way.We are particularly fond on things with ricotta or chocolate or nuts, especially pistachio. But we are not averse to the odd croissant either. Here are some snaps of the varieties of cups and coffee brands that have fueled us through Italy.


Macchiato at a train station bar

Perfect Cappuccino at Cafe del Porto Milazzo with fresh OJ and croissants

Due Macchiate

The trifecta of pastries – ricotta, chocolate and nuts

Macchiato with funky spoon

Espresso in a disposable cup

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It will be sad to say goodbye to Sicily. It has really gotten under my skin from the first day we arrived to Catania.

This amazing island has huge problems with waste management, transport infrastructure, building infrastructure, employment and so many other things. But I will look back on all the beautiful and historic places I have seen and the amazing personal encounters we have had.

Here are a few more images from Sicily that I want to share. Things I will have to keep in my mind’s eye to help me through the next few months while I settle into my ‘normal’ life…

Sicilian painted horse carts

Fishing boats - and fresh fish

Seafood Cous Cous with a big bowl of 'soup' to pour over it - This classified as a 'Culinary Bliss Point'

A decent macchiato - my brew of choice, and partries of course


Having time to hang around until the sun sets

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I am not sure what I was expecting from Palermo.  Maybe that it would be seedy and scary and a bit mad.  But as soon as I stepped into the street on Monday I realised it was not in the least bit scary. The people are open and humorous and direct. The markets of Vucciria and Ballaro were busy but not overcrowded. The buyers all seemed to know the vendors.

Palermo is spread out and full of neighbourhoods, like Buenos Aires and its ‘barrios’. It would take years to really get to know the city. We scratched the surface, visiting the markets of Ballaro, Capo and Vucciria, the Norman Cathedral, Teatro Massimo, Teatro Piliteamo Garibaldi, the beach-side town of Mondello and the hill town of Monreale with its fabulous Cathedral, the interior of which has a huge Byzantine mosaic fresco cycle.

Monreale Cathedral mosaic interior

Street food is also nothing to shy away from in Palermo. One morning, after a typically sugary Italian breakfast I had a craving for something savoury so stopped on the street for a yummy roll drizzled with olive oil and layered with sardines, fresh tomato slices and then toasted on a sandwich press. Mmm, just what I needed!

Sardines and tomatoes on a roll

One day we had an all seafood lunch at Mondello.  Oh so fresh:

Calamari Fritti to start

Spaghetti with Sardines

My personal favourite, Spaghetti Vongole

Fishing boats at Mondello

On our final night in Palermo we booked for dinner at the famous Casa del Brodo specifically to try the soups. I had the Macco di fave e finocchietto (broad bean soup with fennel) and Andrew had the very yummy Tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth). Both were satisfying and just right for a slightly chilly Palermo autumn night.

Casa del Brodo, Palermo

Palermo is not a place where I just instantly thought, “I could live here”. The grime and rubbish could take some time to get used to, as well as the poverty that seems more in-your-face here than in the other cities and towns we have visited in Sicily.

I think it’s a place that could grow on me if I had the time to just observe the people and the customs and feel the vibe. We had many moments of surprise and joy at how lovely and generous the people are, and that’s the sign of a resilient city.

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I am addicted to religiose.

religiose (rɪˈlɪdʒɪˌəʊs) — adj affectedly or extremely pious; sanctimoniously religious.

You know, religious items and images that are over-the-top.  Like glow-in-the-dark rosary beads. And neon halos. Maybe you need to have been raised Catholic to understand, I don’t know.

As a predominately Roman Catholic country, Italy has its share of religiose, not all of it in churches.  Here are some images that I have enjoyed along the way.

Confessional, Palermo

Neon Christ with Heart 'Ex Voto' in via Maqueda, Palermo

Shrine to San Salvatore on the wall of a house in Cefalu

Shrine opposite Laundromat, Palermo

San Sebastian the martyr who Diocletian ordered be tied to a stake and shot at by archers for supposed betrayal. Gorey statue to have to look at every Sunday!

Colourful Confessional

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Geez, it sure looks like we made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Greece. Ah, that must mean we are in Agrigento, Sicily.

It was dark when we arrived, but the Doric temples dating back to the first, second and third centuries BC, are eerily lit and visible on the ridge that stretches from the town of Agrigento towards the sea. In the morning, we visited the Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) which surely must have been one of the most magnificent settlements of ‘Magna Graecia’,

Some days I feel like everyone is speaking Greek. Being a Sunday morning we had trouble finding an open Tabacchio (tobacco shop where one usually purchases local bus tickets). We had huge hassles finding anyone who knew where to buy a bus ticket to the valley or where we could locate a bus stop once we had a ticket. Even the ticket seller at a random long distance bus company wasn’t sure where to wait for it.  So we thought ask a traffic cop.  She pointed us to the back of the new long distance bus station. Some old guy chatting with me said he didn’t think the bus came there.  So we walked to the train station because we had seen buses coming from there with the right numbers (1, 2, 3) and figured they would have to go back eventually. After about an hour of stuffing around, a bus came.  It was a 4 kilometre bus ride and we could have walked it in the time we waited…

You would think that one of the most visited sites in Sicily would be better organised.  If the UNESCO folks are reading this (unlikely), maybe some of the site funding could go to a bus stop sign near the train station? Thanks guys.

So, was it worth the effort? Oh yes indeed it was. And thanks to our fabulous hosts at camera a sud for a charming B&B stay. We had booked elsewhere online the day before, but when we turned up to the booked B&B we were told there was a problem. The lovely Marco escorted us to camera a sud. All’s well that ends well.

The remains of the Temple of Heracles

The well preserved Temple of Concordia

The remains of the Temple of Juno

The remains of the Temples of Castor and Pollux - re-assembled

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Sufficiently beautiful to repeat three times.

All up and down the hillsides,  a church with life-sized statues of all 12 apostles and one with 250 steps, chocolatiers vying for our trade.  Modica’s Spanish conquerors brought cocoa from their South American colonies. The chocolate has a slightly crystallised texture reminiscent of Mexican chocolates.

Quiet, pastel, rococo splendour.

Sampling time at the chocolate factory!

A sweet package – Cannoli

Chiesa San Giorgio, Modica

Modica Alta

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During our 5 weeks together in Italy, my sister Annie and I were fond of saying  “This doesn’t suck”.  Well, Siracusa and Ortygia are truly deserving of this charming turn of phrase!

From the enchanting streets of Ortygia (island connected via a bridge to Siracusa), to the best spaghetti vongole I ever tasted at Spaghetteria do Schogghiu, to the Teatro Greco in the Parco Archaeologico della Neapolis, the Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi and the tiny bohemian-feeling Slow Food recommended Osteria La Gazza Ladra.

Siracusa is small enough to see everything on foot. We hoofed the length and breath of it and here are some photos we captured.

The narrow lanes of Ortygia, Siracusa

Morning market near Post Office, Ortygia, Siracusa

Fishing boats, Siracusa

Teatro Greco at Parco Archaeologico Neaopolis, Siracusa

Former temple of Athena, renovated to create a Catholic Cathedral, Ortygia, Siracusa

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The trip across the strait from Villa San Giovanni, Calabria to Messina was eventful.  Before the train arrived in Villa San Giovanni a conductor came through the car to say there was a ‘problem’. The train would not be loaded on the ferry as normal then continue across the strait to Messina in Sicily.  Evidently the ‘problem’ was a strike, a ‘sciopero’. We were told we could board the ferry on foot then catch a regional train at the other end to our final destination.  Or we could wait with the train for the strike to finish.

So we got on the ferry and proceeded to the information window to see when the next regional train was going only to be told we would have to pay for the trip from Messina to Catania.  I argued that we had already paid to be taken, and on a higher-priced Intercity train, but the Ferrovia dello Stato officer insisted that we would not be allowed to travel with the tickets we held. In the end we waited for the strike to finish (3 hours total) then rejoined our Intercity train to Catania!

Our little hotel (Hotel Etnea 316) was welcome and Danielle the most helpful of hosts, advising us where we could get a light meal, seeing it was a bit late by the time we freshened up.

IKI Catania - nice salad meal with a packet of scamorza and ham plus wine

Catania seems so familiar but I can’t put my finger on it.  It’s a little bit Buenos Aires, a little bit Arequipa, a little bit Madrid (or Barcelona perhaps).  But definitely Italian. The seafood is fabulous, the people friendly, the architecture enchanting. Everyone stays up late to talk and eat and laugh. I could stay here a while…

Catania - La Pescheria - Triglia

Catania - La Pescheria on a Saturday morning

Catania - La Pescheria - Close up fish

Catania - La Pescheria - sardines to go from wooden tubs where they are salt-cured

Lunch at Osteria Antica Marina was a delicious affair.  The waiter asked if he could make a selections of antipasti for us then rocked up with eight little dishes ranging from roasted capsicum, to raw marinated little prawns to sardines split open, grilled then topped with caramelised onions. Each was unique and tasty with the local white wine. We devoured the next courses forgetting to take photos. The meal was topped of with a champagne flute of lemon sorbet.

Catania - Osteria Antica Marina - various types of fish and vegetable antipasti

Catania - Morning market next to La Pescheria

Catania - Morning market - pomodori

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