Red Ribbon for the Blue Ribbon Drive

Friday was our last day in Italy for this trip. We lingered over another excellent breakfast and our last morning cappuccino. 20140310-053557.jpgThen we gathered up our belongings, reunited with Fiesta whom we hadn’t seen since Monday, and bid ciao to the wonderful town of Sorrento and the lovely Hotel Antiche Mura.20140310-054011.jpgThe streets were busy as we headed out of town. The motorcycle parking really tempts one to try out the domino effect. 20140310-054411.jpgThis morning we were headed up the Amalfi Coast. We were about to tackle the ‘Blue Ribbon Drive’!20140310-055454.jpgThis drive follows one of Italy’s most stunning and dramatic roads. Completed in 1853, it winds it’s way along the Amalfi Coast’s entire length, snaking around impossibly tight curves, over deep ravines and through tunnels gouged out of the sheer rock cliffs. It is a magnificent feat of civil engineering but was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages. It has been described as a ‘severe test of driving skill and courage’, ‘hair-raising’ and ‘a white-knuckled drive’. There are numerous switchbacks and plunging drops to the sea, often with only waist-high barriers between you and oblivion! Needless to say, Harvey was looking forward to checking this drive off his bucket list with great anticipation. I on the other hand was hoping it wouldn’t be the last thing off our lists!20140310-062706.jpgOf course, Harvey handled the drive magnificently, without any near misses and all the while commenting on the scenery. This is definitely the time of year to do this drive – traffic was light and there was minimal bus traffic. The thought of meeting a bus around each corner is somewhat terrifying!

The views are spectacular! Stunning scenery, towns hugging the cliffs and spilling down to the sea and the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean greet you around each corner! 20140310-062336.jpg20140310-062409.jpgFinishing the drive near Salerno, we hopped on to the Autostrade and headed north. We stopped for a panini lunch at an Autogrill and toured some of the countryside around Naples. Then it was time to head for the aeroporto and Budget rental car. We are proud to say we returned the car with no additional scratches, scrapes or dents – which is quite an accomplishment in Italy! 20140310-063341.jpgIt was now time to start our interesting trip home. We arrived at the Naples Airport around 6 pm – a mere 12 hours before our 6 am flight. The rental car depot closed at 8 and we didn’t want to be driving in the dark. A complicating issue to the night is that there are no hotels within a reasonable distance of the airport and we really didn’t want to be trying to catch an Italian taxi at 3 am. So we decided to be crazy and spend the night in the airport. A dozen other travellers made the same choice. The night actually went quite well – we napped a bit, snacked on the various food items we had brought along and read a lot. This fellow really didn’t help the napping, but I guess you have to replace floor tiles in a non-busy time. 20140310-064101.jpgOur journey from Naples took us to Munich, where we spent 4 hours, and from there to Toronto for another 4 hour layover. Many in-flight movies, on-time & uncrowded airplanes and airline food that was actually pretty good and we arrived in Edmonton at 9:30 pm on Saturday night. By the time we hit our beds, it was over 48 hours since we arose in Sorrento on Friday morning – with ~5-6 hours of various naps. But we were home safely and all was well at home. 20140310-064738.jpgWe had a great trip and once the jet lag has passed a bit, I will post some final reflections.



It was Bradley’s birthday

On August 24, A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius literally blew her top. The 20,000 citizens of near-by Pompeii felt an earthquake-like shake and heard a great explosion. A huge cloud of hot ash, dust, cinders and lapilli (burning fragments of pumice stone) rose 12 miles into the sky and was blown in a southerly direction for 5 miles, where it fell upon the thriving port city. 2000 of the residents died that day and the city was buried under 30 feet of consolidated ash and rock. A 10,000 ft mountain now stood at 3,000 feet. 20140309-124855.jpgToday after another lovely breakfast, we set out to see if the excavated ruins really deserve the billing they get. We took the Circumvesuviana train from Sorrento to Pompeii. This 30 minute ride was an excellent alternative to fighting through that same traffic route we drove in on Monday. We emerged from the train station and directly in front of us was the famous archeological site.

Pompeii was forgotten until 1594 when the ruins were discovered while digging a canal. Excavation of the ruins began in 1748 and 44 of the original 66 acres of the city have now been excavated.

In 79 AD, Pompeii was actually a coastal city, although it is now several miles inland. In front of the ruins, you can see the stone anchors where boats could be tied. 20140309-125148.jpgTo organize our visit, we followed the Rick Steve’s self-guided tour that is included in his Italy tour book. It guided us around the site and provided a level of information that we found interesting and entertaining, but not too overwhelming.

Pompeii had 2 city gates at Porta Marina. During the day, both would be open but at night, only the smaller, left one allowed access. 20140309-125257.jpgThe streets of Pompeii are a testament to the engineering skill of the Romans. Sidewalks bordered the streets. Each day the roads were flooded with water for cleaning – stepping stones were placed at intervals to facilitate staying dry while crossing. The number of stepping stones (1,2 or 3) was dependant on the size of the street. Chariot and wagon wheels had standard size axles to ensure they could clear the stepping stones. Stones were also erected to block access to pedestrian only roads. 20140309-125415.jpgNotice the deep grooves worn in the road by the passing of many chariots and wagons. But if you look further down the street, you can see road repair had been started and the ruts were gone (Dear Edmonton – pot hole repair!!).

In any Roman city, the Foro (Forum) was the central gathering place and Pompeii was no different. The Foro of Pompeii was flanked by limestone columns that were topped by many of the statues we saw at the museum in Naples and was surrounded by the Tempio Di Giove (Temple of Jupiter), the Curia (city hall), the basilica (law courts) and the Temio Di Apollo. 20140309-131353.jpgThe Casa de Poeta Tragico (House of the Tragic Poet) gives us a look at the home of a Pompeii merchant. The main entrance (which features a ‘Beware of the Dog’ mosaic) is flanked by two family-owned shops. Inside, we viewed the many functional rooms, the central well (which supplemented the water brought by pipe from the aqueduct) and brightly frescoed walls. 20140309-132443.jpgA 100 mile long aqueduct carried fresh water to the citizens of Pompeii. Brick aqueduct arches, with hidden water tanks at the top, improved the water pressure in individual neighborhoods. 20140309-133057.jpgCase del Founo (House of the Faun) was Pompeii’s largest home, with 27,000 square feet and 40 rooms.20140309-133717.jpgPompeii had 6 public baths, each with a men’s and women’s section. The various rooms included dressing rooms with locker areas, a massage area and a steam-bath room with a large tub for soaking and a fountain to spout water onto the heated flood for steam production. 20140309-142221.jpgThe local bakery and flour mill featured a brick oven similar to a modern pizza oven and numerous mills for producing powdered grain (perhaps flavoured with tiny bits of rock). 20140309-134130.jpgThere were at least 30 brothels in Pompeii and the one we viewed contained several small rooms with very uncomfortable looking stone beds & pillows and some faded frescoes that perhaps were a menu of the services offered. 20140309-134634.jpgThe city included three theatres. The Teatro Grande was a 5000 seat Greek theatre, carved into the lava-rock hillside in 470 BC. 20140309-135401.jpgNext door, the smaller Teatro Piccola was once an indoor theatre known for its acoustics.20140309-135843.jpgNear the city outskirts was the Anfiteatro, the grand amphitheatre where up to 20,000 spectators could watch great gladiator battles. 20140309-140209.jpgAt various spots throughout the city, and especially outside the theatres, you find the ancient ‘fast-food’ stalls. Apparently, most ancient Romans did not cook for themselves in their tiny apartments so these counters were very common- place. This made me think of today’s busy crowded cities, like Manhatten. The marble counters had holes where the pots for food were placed. 20140309-141032.jpgThe ruins of Pompeii are a definite must-see. It is amazing to have an insight to the lives of the people in this ancient city, as well as to marvel at the incredible work involved in the excavations. 20140309-141510.jpgLeaving the area, we hopped on a train back to Sorrento where we picked up a couple of Neopolitan Paninis ( stuffed paninis – one with feta & spinach, and one with prosciutto & mozzarella) and headed back to the hotel for an afternoon rest. 20140309-142738.jpgLate in the afternoon, we visited a few shops that we had scouted out earlier in the week to pick up some souvenirs. We spent a long time chatting with one fellow in a small shop where we picked up quite a few items and enjoyed the conversation. We returned to the hotel to drop off our purchases and get ready for dinner.

We had a dinner reservation at Ristorante il Buco. This small restaurant, set in the cellar of an old monastery, is under the direction of Giuseppe Aversa, who holds the only Michelin star in town. Peppe designs his menu around what is fresh and speaks to all of the diners to ensure everything meets their expectations. The staff were friendly, attentive and thoroughly explained exactly what was on each plate and in each glass.20140309-154923.jpgWe started our evening with an apertif glass of sparkling rose and the chef’s welcome – a mini-octopus salad. Simply delicious!20140309-160424.jpgHarvey (aka Breadstick Man) was delighted with the wonderful selection of breads, as well as the fact it was later refreshed with a new selection. 20140309-161852.jpgWe decided that the smart choice would be to let the experts guide us through the evening so we chose the ‘Trust Me’ five course dinner. The waiter asked what our preferences would be – we told him just to focus on fish and seafood and we would be happy! I wish I could recall the waiter’s description of each of the courses – but alas, I was enjoying the moment and so can only record the basic description that I can remember.

The first antipasti course was a tempura prawn, on a bed of herb infused bread purée – this was way better than the way I have described it. This plating included a small clam with dabs of basil pesto that was described as a palate cleanser – and amazingly did just that.

The next antipasti course was a squid ring stuffed with mozzarella di bufala, tomatoes & shrimp, squid and spinach on a risotto base. The blending of flavors and textures in this dish was perfect.

The pasta course followed. The perfectly al dente pasta, red peppers and bits of seafood with an herbed tomato sauce were fabulous!20140309-164124.jpg The waiter left us to enjoy our wine before bringing the secondi – sea bass and asparagus on a potato base, covered with the most amazing foam!20140309-164835.jpgWe had also chosen wine pairing with our dinner. After our initial sparkling wine, we were served three white wines with the antipasti and pasta courses. The wines were all from the area, and progressed in body and finish and were all wonderful. The secondi was served with a red wine from northern Italy that matched the progression perfectly.
20140309-170444.jpgIt was now time for dessert. Which began with the pre-dessert – yogurt topped with chocolate – accompanied by a sweet Sicilian wine. Then came the dessert – a cheesecake topped with dark cherries & sauce. But that was not all, there was also my favorite – creme caramel! We of course, shared both of these. And not done yet – finally, along with our expresso came a selection of ‘sweets’ and chilled limoncello!!

20140309-171624.jpgIt was an amazing evening! Peppe and his staff were wonderful, the other diners we chatted with were great and the food and wine were incredible! It was a perfect way to wind down our trip and once again, we felt so lucky to be able to have this experience!!



Giuseppe leads the way!

A beautiful morning in Sorrento, with no sign of yesterday’s rain. After another lovely breakfast, we checked out the hotel pool and gardens. We really must come back here sometime in the later spring! 20140306-155121.jpg It seemed like the perfect day to visit the island of Capri (note – pronounced KAH-pree, not like the pants). So we headed down to the ferry port. 20140306-155410.jpg The ferry was a fairly large boat and we were able to find seats on the upper floor with a good view of Capri as we approached. 20140306-155615.jpg Capri is separated from the mainland by a narrow strait and is reached by a 30 minute ferry ride from Sorrento. It has a population of ~12,000 who live in the two towns on the island, lower Capri Town and above that Anacapri (Ana from the Greek meaning above).

We chose a guided tour as the most efficient way to see the island and off we went with Giuseppe in a Mercedes minibus. 20140306-164623.jpg The bus headed up a narrow road, with many switchbacks, and the skill of the bus drivers was apparent as they artfully passed each other. On the way, we passed the ancient Phoenician Steps (all 777 of them). 20140306-160450.jpg We arrived at the town centre of Anacapri and had a couple of hours to spend exploring. We chose to ride the chairlift to the 1900 foot summit of Monte Solaro, the highest point on the island. Here we were treated to magnificent views of the entire Bay of Naples, the Amalfi Coast and the islands of Ischia and Procida. We spent quite a bit of time snapping photos from all angles. 20140306-160917.jpg After a pleasant descent on the chairlift, we spent some time popping into a couple of lovely shops for some purchases for my girls and I, and having a snack of some fruit we had brought along.

Hopping back on the bus, we headed to Capri Town. Here Giuseppe told us some of the island history. The island’s charm has been a favorite vacation spot for Roman emperors,Romantic Age aristocrats on their Grand Tour of Europe, Russian revolutionaries and decades of celebrities. Mussolini spent much time here, as did his daughter who owned a castle high above the town. 20140306-161913.jpg The property is now owned by a Venezuelan millionaire.

Giuseppe’s friend, Giuseppe, led us through the streets of Capri Town to the Giardini of Augusto. This small garden oasis offers breathtaking views and today, seemed to be preparing for a reception of some sort. It would be an amazing wedding location! 20140306-162741.jpg Leaving the garden, we wandered past the high end shops in the area, stopped for gelato and admired more stunning views. 20140306-163039.jpg It was now time for a bus ride down to hop on the ferry. This time, our vessel was a hydrofoil, with mostly outdoor seating. As we headed across the strait, a squall blew in and it was a bit of a chilly, damp experience. 20140306-165208.jpg Once on land, we quickly climbed the stairs up the steep embankment and made our way back to the hotel for an enjoyable rest.

For dinner tonight, we were pleased to find that Inn Bufalito was open this evening. This restaurant, recommended by Rick Steve’s and Lonely Planet, focuses on regional specialities. We shared a Capri Salad (rocket, cherry tomatoes and the wonderfully creamy mozzarella di bufala) and bruschetta. The flavor of the tomatoes was wonderful! We chose our entrees from the daily specials. Harv thoroughly enjoyed homemade black pasta (the color comes from squid ink), smothered in tomatoes, prawns and squid. I think my entree was the best I have had on the trip – grilled white tuna with sautéed zucchini. Of course, red wine and finished off with chilled limoncello. I also would highly recommend this restaurant! 20140306-164145.jpg It was a great day!



Do Italians drink with every meal – or it just us?

Sorrento is a wonderful town, wedged on the side of a mountain and spreading down to the coast of the Mediterranean. Approximately 20,000 people live in Sorrento and apparently in the summer, that number nearly doubles. However, this is tourist off-season and we had a great time exploring the area today.

We started with an excellent breakfast at the hotel – which included champagne. It was raining a bit as we enjoyed the wide variety of food offerings, but it had stopped by the time we were ready to head out. 20140305-185425.jpg Right next to our hotel is a gorge, with Greek steps and ruins from the fifth century BC. 20140305-185731.jpg We wandered the streets of the historic old town, stopping in at a church, looking out over the sea and just generally soaking up the atmosphere. 20140305-190058.jpg20140305-190837.jpg20140305-191029.jpgWe followed the sea cliffs and down a path to the area of Marina Grande, a delightful little fishing village. 20140305-191638.jpgAs we returned to Sorrento’s narrow cobble-stoned streets, we visited a few shops. We then decided to stop for a late lunch, sharing a pizza and a very cute 1/2 litre carafe of red wine. While we were lunching, it again showered but stopped before we left. 20140305-192308.jpgWe decided to follow the Italian custom of an afternoon rest so headed back to the hotel, where we rested, read and blogged. Again, it rained while we were in – this was working out quite well for us.

Around 6 pm, the rain had stopped and we felt it was time for a walk. There had been a Carnevale celebration while we were in and the streets were littered with soggy confetti and silly string. We didn’t mind that we had missed these wet celebrations. We headed in the opposite direction from our previous explorations and perused a few stores in the newer town, as well as checking out the train station. This is just a block from our hotel and we plan on taking the train to Pompeii later in the week.

We had a couple of ideas for restaurants for dinner, but unfortunately both were closed (one for the season, one for the evening). As we were wandering, a young man convinced us we should come into his establishment. It was a good decision! We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner of linguine with mussels (Harv) and rigatoni with meatballs (Bev), accompanied once again by red wine. Hmm – 3 meals today, all with alcohol – perhaps not the best habit to get into, but enjoyable for a day! 20140305-193713.jpgCheers,


Over, under, through….

Monday was travel day for us – leaving Sicily is bittersweet. We very much enjoyed the small sampling of Sicily that we experienced. The sites were interesting and the people were so very friendly. But we are quite looking forward to our next and final stop on this trip, the Amalfi Coast.

To start our day – huzzah! She has emerged! We were able to finally view the summit of the looming Mount Etna! 20140304-165313.jpg We of course had to once again travel by ferry to leave the island of Sicily, but this time it was a smaller, open ferry. 20140304-165518.jpgToday, we travelled ~600km, on the Autostrade, through a wide variety of terrain – seacoast, plains, hills, valleys and mountains. You will recall I promised to count the numbers of bridges and tunnels we encountered. That may have been a mistake on my part, as it became quite tedious. But I persevered and I bring you the information that you have all been waiting for. 20140304-170021.jpg We travelled through 127 tunnels, totalling 69 km, and over 331 stretches of elevated roadway, measuring 60 km. That is over 20% of our trip. The shortest tunnel was 42 m long and the shortest bridge was 10 m. The longest were 2.4 km and 1.8 km. The tunnels are through hills and mountains and even under ancient ruins. 20140304-172935.jpgThe bridges span dips, valleys, gorges, streams and rivers. All in all, it is a feat in road building. However, as you can see in the signs, each tunnel or bridge is named and a sign is erected at each end listing the name and length. Does this seem like a make-work project to anyone else, as it does to me? I think the time and money could be better spent on the myriad of construction projects we encountered where there appeared to be no activity occurring. Just my opinion.

As we neared Sorrento, Sally led us through a maze of small, narrow, very congested (once again with both moving and parked cars, scooters and pedestrians) streets in towns that we have no idea where or what they were. We are unsure if this was the easiest way – or just the dreaded GPS ‘fastest route’.

But we made it safely to our hotel. I must commend my husband’s driving skills. I was stressed just being a passenger, while he remains calm, manoeuvring the car through the narrowest and trickiest predicaments!

Our hotel is fabulous! I am always anxious, having booked on and relying on on-line reviews. All of our hotels on the trip have turned out to be great, but we definitely saved the best for the last. It was so nice to be greeted with smiles and information, to hand over the car keys for someone to handle the car, and to have a distinguished gent named Francesco get us settled in our room. 20140304-171955.jpg After a bit of a break in our room, we hunted down a restaurant for dinner. Our bruschetta, salad, seafood fusilli and gnocchi were good, but certainly not up to the standard of our dinner from the night before. Ah well, it was close and they did finish our meal with a shot of limoncello. 20140304-173321.jpgCheers,


PS – another note on Harv’s driving. When we were in Germany, he recorded speeds of 200 kph on the autobahn. Our 1 litre, 3 cylinder Fiesta isn’t quite up to that action, but he did get it wound up a bit today. 20140304-172453.jpg

Mountain of Mystery

Today we went for a Sunday drive. We drove around Mount Etna.

At 3329 m, Mount Etna is Italy’s highest mountain south of the Alps and the largest active volcano in Europe. It is in a constant state of activity. The first recorded eruption was in about 1500 BC, with the most devastating event in 1669 when 12000 people were killed. More recently, spectacular eruptions and ash clouds in 2002 and 2007 have caused mountain infrastructure damage and airport closures.

We have yet to see the top of Etna. Despite driving around the entire mountain base, and an excellent view from our hotel parking lot, the top has remained mysterious, shrouded in a veil of cloud and smoke. 20140303-220805.jpg We travelled today through a number of small towns, ranging from rough, work-a-day Paterno to Randazzo, with its medieval town centre. We passed huge groves of orange trees, fichi d’India (prickly pears) and pistachios (and piles of trash).

At times, the landscape was rugged, with piles of lava rock and stunted trees.

As we drove through the towns, we noted Sunday morning gatherings of Italian men on the streets. Where were all the women? At church? At home cooking? 20140303-221434.jpg Many towns were also preparing for Carnevale celebrations, with children in costume.

In Randazzo, we enjoyed wandering the near deserted streets of the medieval town centre. 20140303-222200.jpg Then we drove up the hill and picked up some strawberries from a market truck to enjoy with the pastries and bananas we had in our snack pack. 20140303-222318.jpgWe could have also purchased most any kind of bird. How interesting! 20140303-222440.jpgWe headed back toward the coast, passing through lush, tropical terrain, dotted with ancient ruins, piles of lava rock and terraced vineyards.

We travelled a bit north on the coastal ‘highway’ to the area of Taormina. This is Sicily’s most popular summer resort and the abundance of grandiose hotels attests to the number of high-rollers and celebs who are said to frequent the area.

Our destination was the Teatro Greco, the most dramatically situated Greek theatre in the world. This amphitheater was built in the third century BC and has been improved to allow for its summer use in international arts and film festivals. The views of Mount Etna and the coast are spectacular and the intact condition of parts of ruins are amazing. 20140303-223033.jpg20140303-223155.jpgAs we left the Teatro, the community’s Carnevale celebrations were in full swing. The celebrations will continue until Tuesday, after which lent will commence. 20140303-223408.jpgFrom Taormina, we travelled the very scenic coastal road back to out hotel, encountering the parking madness near Acireale as we passed.

After a bit of a rest at the hotel, we were surprised to find once again an evening rain storm. Waiting until the fashionable hour of 8 pm, we drove to a nearby restaurant, La Polena, recommended by the hotel. We were of course the first patrons of the evening – others arrived slowly over the next hour!

The restaurant staff had very limited English but through hand gestures, their English, our tiny bit of Italian – and pictures of food on the waitress’ iPhone, we managed quite well.

We ordered our sparking water and red wine – never a problem there. Then they brought us a plate of deep-fried prawns and fish balls – very tasty (sorry, in my excitement, forgot a picture). Then a plate with 4 critters in shells – no idea what they were, and probably just as well as I don’t think we would order them again. Somewhat tasteless but sort of crunchy and chewy in an odd way. But this was followed by another plate of delicacies – scampi, shrimp in various ways, tuna, smoked salmon, thinly sliced fish of unknown origin, and oddly a mixture of what seemed to be mashed peas. It was all quite delicious! Not having ordered any of this, we had no idea what our bill would look like.
For our primo piatto, I ordered Spaghetti Vongola and Harvey had Risotto Imperial. My dish excellent and the risotto was filled seafood and the flavor I recognize from crab imperial. We declined the secondi as we were both quite satisfied at this point.

Howevet, we did share a “sweet” – which turned out to be a type of lava cake – not sure of the filling but it was delicious, ice cream and fruit. 20140303-223844.jpg

We were pleasantly surprised when we asked for the bill. €35. Apparently the cover charge of €1,50 each must have included the bottled water, the bread and all of the delicious appetizers!!

Feeling very pleased with our dinner, we made our way back to the hotel. It was a delightful day! Hopefully, before we leave tomorrow, Mount Etna will show her summit.



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!