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.



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!



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!



History and garbage…..

Naples is an interesting area. Perhaps not all because of great things – but definitely interesting.

On Monday morning, we arose just in time to catch the end of the hotel breakfast – apricot correttos, yogurt, cereal – and of course, cappuccino. We then headed towards Napoli centro. The hotel desk man on Sunday had suggested that we could drive to Piazza Cavour and find a parking garage. He failed to mention the craziness that we might encounter with traffic in that area. We set ‘Sally-Sue’ for that destination. Those of our readers who have travelled with us have made the acquaintance of Sally – our trusty Garmin GPS. Now Sally has many good points – one of which is her excellent grasp of Italian pronunciation – but one of her faults is that she occasionally chooses travel routes that are challenging. Today was one of these occasions.

We were led into an area with narrow streets, a number of one- ways resulting in switchback turns and a very large volume of cars, scooters, buses and random pedestrians. Italians do not really follow any traffic laws or etiquette – they pretty much go where they want, when they want. I had a bit of a meltdown, fearing for our rental car. I didn’t think the speed was great enough to fear for our lives, although I wondered about some of the pedestrians and helmetless scooter riders. Luckily, Harv remained calm, cool & collected, even professing to somewhat enjoying the chaos. He did become a bit agitated when a siren blasting police van came up behind us and there was nowhere to turn. Apparently, Italians don’t worry about moving for emergency vehicles either…. 20140225-211259.jpgWe finally determined that we might never reach the intended destination so reset Sally for the airport. The drive there was much less stressful and we settled the Fiesta in a nearly deserted parking garage and hopped on the Alibus, which would take us directly to the Stazione Centrale area we wanted to reach. 20140225-211411.jpgAfter a calming bus ride, we arrived in central Naples and took some time to randomly wander the streets – checking out the chaos from a sidewalk. We then hopped on a metro train to the Museo stop and entered the Museo Archeologico. Housed on the main floor is the Farnese Collection, a grand collection of restored statues excavated from Rome’s Baths of Caracalla. We were once again amazed at the detail of these amazing sculptures. 20140225-212053.jpgWe then climbed the grand staircase to the top floor. Here we found the statues, artifacts and art found in Pompeii, as well as numerous bronze statues from Herculaneum. It was so interesting to envision these items in use when Mount Vesuvius stopped time in 79 AD, as well as to imagine the painstaking work it must have taken to excavate and recover so many items. 20140225-212415.jpg20140225-212208.jpgReturning to the mezzanine level, we admired the mosaics recovered from Pompeii 20140225-212311.jpg and then visited the Gabinetto Segreto. This so-called ‘Secret Room’ houses a sizeable assortment of erotic frescoes and bawdy statues. I won’t post any photos, but just will comment to many of these men from ancient Pompeii – “you wish….”

Leaving the museum, we followed Rick Steve’s self-guided walk, which he titles ‘A Slice of Neapolitan Life’. We travelled down through the principal shopping area, with a couple of impressive structures used as shopping ‘malls’. 20140225-212920.jpgWe detoured off the main thoroughfare to wander a bit through the Spanish Quarter, known as one of Naples’ rawest, poorest and most characteristic neighbourhoods. 20140225-213019.jpgWe admired the exteriors of the Royal Palace and Teatro Di San Carlo.

It was time for a gelato break – and it was as good as we remembered! 20140225-213254.jpgWe took in the harbour view and passed by the Castel Nuovo, which houses civic offices and the civic museum. Close by, we found the Alibus stop and headed back to the airport, the car and and to the hotel. We stopped at a likely looking restaurant down the street but of course, it didn’t open until 7 pm, we decided on pizza again at the hotel. It was delicious and I had time to prepare for Tuesday’s assessment. 20140225-213514.jpgUp early on Tuesday morning and after a quick breakfast, Harv whisked me to the US Naval Support Site, where I spent a delightful day with the hospital blood bank staff performing their AABB & CAP inspections. Harvey spent the day seeing a few of the neighborhood sites here in Guiglianano. 20140225-213837.jpg We returned to the hotel and following our pattern of relaxing, decided to eat here again. Delicious caprese salad, spaghetti bolognese, wine & limoncello. 20140225-213601.jpg We will be sad to leave the Hotel Agora tomorrow as they have treated us like family – but on to new exciting sites….

Interesting facts about the Naples area –
– it is apparently acceptable to just drop your garbage bags at the side of the road as it seems to be done everywhere. Quite disgusting!
– it is also apparently acceptable for hookers to stand/sit at pull-offs along major thoroughfares. And at noon, throughout the afternoon, etc. – guess that’s why there are prolonged lunch hours….
– the potholes in side roads are worse than Edmonton – and that’s saying something.
– Monday is laundry day in Naples! 20140225-214345.jpgAnd finally, why would anyone eat this? 20140225-214438.jpgAll in all, Naples has been interesting and worth a visit but it certainly wouldn’t go on my list of return vacation spots!



What day is it?

We are in Italy!!

This comes almost as a shock to us. Having been fortunate enough to vacation in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic in October, the grand plan was to return to Europe in a couple of years. And then ~10 days after we got home, I received a request to perform a laboratory inspection in Naples, Italy. Well, how can you say no to that offer – and Harvey wasn’t staying home while I went to his favorite country. So here we are back in Europe – so blessed. (and yes, thanks Maureen for getting me into this assessment business!)

We had a fairly long journey here – Edm to Vancouver to Frankfurt to Naples. But all our flights went well and Lufthansa dined and wined us quite well. Upon arrival, the friendly gentlemen at Budget had our Ford Fiesta all ready for us. We followed the hotel’s directions and with just one short detour for a missed corner, we arrived at the Hotel Agora. This hotel was recommended by the hospital and is great. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful and they cater to North Americans as they are close to both the U.S. Naval Base and the NATO Headquarters.

After settling in, we took a test drive to the Naval Support Site where the hospital is located in preparation for my visit on Tuesday. Then it was pizza and wine for dinner at the hotel. The nice waiter brought us chilled limoncello at the end of our meal – so yummy. 20140224-205721.jpg
We chatted with some Brits and Americans who live nearby and had stopped by for the 2 for 1 happy hour. After receiving their congratulations on our country’s prowess in curling and hockey, it was off to bed. We had been up for 31 hours with just brief plane naps so it was time!20140224-210045.jpgCheers,

B & H


In January, Harvey and I took a quick 6 day trip. To somewhere warm and sunny, you ask? Well no – we went to Detroit, where it was colder than Edmonton and snowy. You ask again – Why? Are you crazy?

There was a meaning to this madness. I was heading to Toronto for a meeting and when scheduling the trip, I realized – it is the same week as the North America International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. This has been on Harv’s bucket list for a long time – but I had always balked at the thought of Detroit in January. But here I was going to be a short 3 hour drive away. So thanks to Aeroplan, Harv was also booked and away we went. 20140223-204407.jpg
First – the auto show – We spent about 4 hours there on Tuesday morning and Harv went back later in the day for 3 hours on his own. It was quite spectacular. As well as the displays that one would see at the Edmonton Auto Show (and believe me, Harvey has spent more than his fair share of time there), the Detroit show features any and all new models, concept cars and specialty show cars. The displays themselves are a sight to see – glitz & glamour with gigantic LED screens and fun items like a simulated Ford assembly line. It was certainly worth seeing and Harvey was very happy to tick that one off the list. 20140224-081437.jpg
Some of Harv’s favorites:20140224-082027.jpg
Fun fact: The first Mustang produced was sold to a pilot in Newfoundland. Before long, Ford realized that this car was going to be a big deal and wanted number one back. The pilot held out for a couple of years but eventually traded them for #1,000,000 off the line. Number 1 on display here still bears the NF license plates. 20140224-080401.jpg
After his Tuesday at the show, Harv didn’t feel the need to return so on Wednesday, we visited The Henry Ford in Dearborne. This major complex includes a 12 acre museum, consisting of a collection of antique machinery, pop culture items, automobiles, locomotives, aircraft, and other items. We didn’t have time to visit the museum but would like to in the future. Also in the complex is Greenfield Village, a 240 acre historic village-museum with more than 100 buildings. This area isn’t open in the winter, but again would be a fun summer visit.

Our focus for the day was the Ford Rouge River Plant. This extensive complex is where the F150 truck is built. The tour starts with a bus ride from the museum to the plant complex. It was a quiet tour day – we had our own private bus ride, viewing of the two films they show and tour of the plant! It was very well done and extremely interesting. 20140223-205640.jpg
Two take- away thoughts from the plant:
– it is amazing that each truck comes out equipped as it should be. Each unit is already bought (owner or dealer) and has its own list of criteria (model, type, options, etc). They come randomly down the line and a bar coding system tells the line workers what to install.
– I am so very thankful I have never had to work on an assembly line. Although apparently well paid, I couldn’t imagine doing the same task over and over – approximately 60 – 66 times per hour!

Detroit itself is as you probably have heard, in an interesting state. The downtown core where we stayed (note: the Doubletree Inn & Suites was excellent) is centred on the entertainment business – the Cobo Center where the NAIAS was held, the Joe Louis Arena, Ford Field (football field), Comerica Park (baseball park), a couple of large casino complexes, hotels and restaurants. No retail that I really noticed, a few boarded-up office fronts. It seemed fairly well kept and safe.

Travelling a few blocks out from the core, you encounter the evidence of the devastation of Detroit, the city that has declared bankruptcy. Blocks of buildings and factories, streets of houses that are boarded up, empty, some burned. This went on for a considerable distance.

And then you leave the Detroit city limits and you could be in any large American city – suburbs and shopping complexes. Quite the dichotomy.

Of course, we also took note of the world headquarters for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. I think GM wins. 20140224-075426.jpg
We had an excellent dinner at Roast, a Michael Symon of Iron Chef fame restaurant, and a fun lunch at Logan’s Roadhouse. 20140223-204054.jpg
Then it was back to Toronto, a lovely dinner with our niece, Brooklyn, who is thriving at Ryerson University, and a couple of days of CSTM Board meetings, as well as a nice visit with our friends, Lucie & Stan. 20140223-203631.jpg
A quick trip but well worth it. And as well as ticking the auto show off Harv’s list, Michigan was one more state off my list – only 3 to go (Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma).


Bev & Harv