L’Arco dei Cappuccini – restaurant review Taormina

Hurrah, finally we had a meal at a restaurant I had been trying to get into for days, L’Arco dei Cappuccini on via Cappuccini, a small street tucked around the corner from the city gate of Taormina, Sicily.

It was my sister Susie’s actual birthday and due to a series of events mostly surrounding my three year old nephew Sam’s bad behaviour, Mum, Dad, Zorba, Susie and I went out for dinner.  Ben took a hit for the team and stayed home with the kids :(.

The restaurant was set in a small outdoor courtyard with its high walls covered in climbing vines. Carmelo was one of our friendly waiters and when he explained to Dad that there weren’t any beers large bottles of beer, much to Dad’s verbalised disappointment, Carmelo responded in Italian, “It’s not the end of the world, just drink two small ones!”  I thought that was brilliant!

For antipasti, Susie and I both had Tuna Tartar, raw tuna with lemon juice.  It was fresh, meaty yet tender and amazing.

Tuna tartare

Zorba had the white bait which consisted of hundreds of tiny fish formed into fish cakes and fried crispy on the outside. They were crisp, salty in a moorish way, and sensational.

Mum and Dad both had marinated anchovies and they were so delicate and so, so delicious.  Before you screw your face up, the marinated anchovies are little slivers of white fish marinated in a olive oil, lemon juice and a touch of vinegar. They are seriously good and do not resemble anything like the ‘hairy fish’ on pizza that we think of in Australia when anchovies are mentioned.

Marninated anchovies

For main course, our friendly and funny waiter Carmelo showed us the fresh fish that was available.  The sea bass looked so fresh and when he described that it would be cooked with a Sicilian sauce of tomatoes, capers and olives, I was sold. No one else wanted any, so I pretty much had the whole fish to myself.  It was a bit too much for me to finish – but never fear, the Greek was near!  Zorba enjoyed helping me finish it off.  Yum yum yum!!

Zorba had home made fresh pasta with tuna and he thoroughly enjoyed it.  So much so that he wolfed it down fast and I didn’t even get a taste!

Susie, Mum and Dad all had linguine alla vongole – linguine with a clam / pippis.  They ooh and ahhed with every mouthful.

We can thank Antonia our land lady for the restaurant recommendation.  Zorba and I tried to get in on Tuesday night but the restaurant was fully booked. On Wednesday we went back to make a reservation, but it was closed.  While we were trying to figure out if the restaurant was indeed closed or if we were too early, we met a couple of Scandanavian boys who were also trying to make a reservation.  They said that they had eaten there once before and the food was phenomenal and there were no tourists in the place, only Italians. This only made me more determined to experience a meal there and I’m so glad we did. It was fantastically fabulous.  From the friendly chatty service, the intimate garden courtyard setting, to the unforgettable food, it is worthy of its Bortoletto holiday title of ‘The meal of Sicily’.

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FACT FILE

L’Arco dei Cappuccini‪
Via Cappuccini, 1, 98039 Taormina, Sicily, Italy
Tel: +39 0942 24893

Tiramisu for Susie’s Birthday

Sister Susie preferred to go out on Thursday night, the night before her actual birthday for a celebration dinner.

Zorba and I had tried to book into L’Arco Del Cappuccini – allegedly one of the best restaurants in Taormina – without success.  So we booked into the restaurant next door, Tiramisui, where we had enjoyed a beautiful meal a couple of days before.

The whole family came out to dinner – Master Sam 3, Miss Indi 5, Susie, my bro in law Ben, Mum Gina, Dad Walter, and husband Zorba.

A grumpy niece with her pasta and tomato sauce

Dad with his hot mussels

We did what we always do when having dinner with the kids in Italy, order for them first.  Sam wanted pizza and Indi wanted her standard, pasta with tomato sauce.  Both kids did well and had very simply yet tasty dinners.

To be fair, the kids were really good going out to dinner most of the time and they were good this night for the first 90 minutes.  Then they got bored and fidgety.  That’s when the kid-rescuer gets fired up, the portable DVD player featuring this week’s favourite animated feature, Robin Hood.  Man, those kids must have watched Robin Hood 17 times in two weeks!

Zorba and I had talked up our lovely dinner at Tiramisu somewhat, so everyone’s expectations were high.  Nonetheless, we all had lovely antipasti and mains.  I opted for marinated scampi followed by fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms.  Both were beautiful, but the scampi was particularly light, fresh and delicate.  I didn’t want to share it because it was so good…but I did!

Marinated scampi

Zorba loved his starter of octopus cooked in balsamic.  His main of linguine with sea urchin was not to my liking – sea urchin has a very fishy seaweedy almost flavour to me, but Zorba loved it.

Ben opted for the traditional Sicilian pasta dish of tagliatelle norma – with eggplant and breadcrumbs, followed by a mixed seafood grill.

Mum’s bruschetta with eggplant was really delicious. For mains, she just had a plate of grilled vegetables and shared Dad’s pizza of grilled vegetables and balsamic (no cheese!).  Dad has hot mussels to start and he loved those!

Bruschetta with melanzane – eggplant

We were all feeling pretty full, however, it was Susie’s birthday dinner so when she slipped away to the ladies room, I asked the waiter if he had a piece of cake that he could bring out for her and passed him a packed of birthday candles.  The waiter recommended some tiramisu – I concurred. That sounded good!

When Susie returned to the table and started talking about finding a gelato for dessert, along came her birthday cake tiramisu – and wow – it was HUGE!  It fed all eight of us!

Happy Birthday Susie!

The tiramisu was so gorgeously light and unbelievably tasty. The tiramisu I make is also delicious, but it is a lot heavier than this one.  I could have kept eating that until I burst. It was gorgeous!

Nephew Sam even liked it!  I spoon fed it to him while he was on automatic pilot watching Robin Hood on the portable DVD player.  Watching Sam go through a caffeine high on the way home from the restaurant was something else. It was the kid was charged with super duper everready batteries. He kept running and jumping and running and jumping. This did not calm down when we got home either.  Running in the villa, jumping on couches, up and down stairs!  Not surprising really.  It took him about an hour to wind down and get to sleep.

It was a lovely family dinner out.  Happy Birthday Susie!

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FACT FILE

Tiramisu Restaurant
Via Cappuccini 1, Taormina
Tel: +39 (0)942 24803

 

 

Castelmola – another hard hike

Castelmola is a hilltop town 5km from Taormina, uphill the whole way.   Some crazy person suggested that it might be a good idea to walk there and have a look at the town (hint – Walter).

The plan was for Mum, Dad, Zorba and I to meet at 8.30am, walk 10 minutes from our villa to the funicular, catch the cable car up the hill to Taormina, have a decent coffee, walk to the Greek amphitheatre to check it out and then walk up to Castelmola.

So we left at 9am…a little later than we would have liked, but that’s life when on holidays.

Taormina itself is ancient and dates back to 3 BC.  The Greek amphitheatre is said to have been complete in 2 AD.  It cost 8 euro each to enter and it was worth it, quite impressive. The awesome views from the amphitheatre are worthy of the entry fee on their own.

The Greek Amphitheatre, Taormina

There were heaps of roadies at the amphitheatre setting up staging and lights for a series of concerts that are going to be held over the next few days.

The Greek Amphitheatre, Taormina

It would be a gorgeous setting for a concert – we were hoping to be able to see something there whilst in Taormina.  As it turned out, the music concert on that night was sold out, and the only other show during our time there were two Italian comedians. My Italian language skills can impress some that don’t speak a word of another language, but they are no where near good enough to understand the jokes of a couple of fast slang talking comedians.  Che peccata! What a shame!

From the amphitheatre, we went to the tourist information point in Taormina to enquire about the walk to Castelmola.  Dad asked the questions and I entered the conversation as the lady behind the counter was giving her answer.  “Yes, it’s just a 20-minute walk, up many steps, but slowly slowly, you will get there – just 20 minutes.”

That sounded pretty good to me.  Although, I learned later that the 20-minute walk was to the old ruined castle on top of another nearby hill that Walter was keen to check out, not Castelmola. Sigh.

I think I can, I think I can…

It’s safe to say that the five kilometre uphill (more like up-mountain) walk to Castelmola was difficult.  A never-ending staircase took us about half way up, and the steep road interspersed with steps, took us up the other half.  It was a blistering hot day – must have been close to 40 degrees – and whenever we found a spot of shade, we stopped to catch our breath.  I was coping, but finding it difficult, Zorba was a Greek mountain goat (yet again – see Hiking in Cinque Terre) trotting up and then waiting for us to catch up and Mum and Dad were both feeling the heat.

After a solid hour of uphill climbing and profuse sweating, we reached Castelmola.

So happy to have reached the top!

Yippeee!  W all felt the great sense of achievement of conquering the mountain!  And what a quaint cute little hilltop town it is.  Simply gorgeous!  The views go forever and ever over hills, over other towns, Taormina, and of course the blue Mediterranean Sea.  Che bella!

Castelmola is a tourist friendly town with tourism officers at the entrance of the town waiting to greet visitors. Walter asked them about the bus that goes back down the hill to Taormina and he was told that it leaves 15 minutes past every hour.  Great!

We walked through the agreeable little town, had a taste of the speciality of the town, Vino alla Mandorla – an almond wine that I thought it was quite nice. It was like a marzipan liqueur. Walter didn’t like it, but Zorba and I did.  We made a mental note to buy a bottle on our way out (which we conveniently forgot to do).

Looking down on the world from way up here

Mum and I were looking at the few shops that were in the town when we lost Zorba and Dad.  Hmm, I bet they have gone up to the top of the castle I say.  The last thing we felt like was climbing more stairs, but Gina and I soldiered on.  Once at the top, the view was lovely, just as lovely as from the town just below. The ruined wall that was once a castle isn’t worth mentioning (and I was too knackered to appreciate it), and Walter and Zorba were nowhere to be seen. Thank God there were a few trees up there providing some shade. It was really baking hot.  Back down to town, and down the stairs we trudged, step after step.

Back into Castelmola, we found the boys sitting in a bar at an outside table under a tree enjoying a large ice cold beer. Aaah, two more thanks!  Beautiful cold beer, a well deserved too.

Tuna steak cooked in Sicilian sauce of tomatoes, capers, and olives. Delicious!

For lunch we chose a restaurant called La Taverna dell’Etna for no particular reason except it looked good, was covered and protected from the baking sun, and had a nice view.  It proved to be a good choice as lunch was scrumptious!

Mum and I both had tuna steak cooked Sicilian style in a sauce with red onion, cherry tomatoes, olives and capers; simple yet delicious. I could eat that every day and not get sick of it.

The boys had scallopine con funghi – veal with mushrooms.  It too was very tasty, but I think Mum and I chose dish of the day.  All side salads were fresh and crunchy.  Absolutely delightful.

Veal with mushroom sauce

We rushed to leave because we wanted to catch the 2.15pm bus back to Taormina. We all agreed that the walk up was sufficient torture for the day and we wouldn’t be walking down.  My knees were whimpering at the mere thought of the steep descent!

Dad quickly paid the bill (thanks Dad!) and off we scurried, out of town, down the hill, down the stairs into the blazing sun to the bus stop.  Uh-o.  Un problemo.  The bus timetable at the bus stop stated that there was a bus at 13.15 and the next one at 15.15.  Bugger!!!  Even the buses have siestas!  Poo poo poo!  Zorba and I contemplated walking back down for about 20 seconds.  In the end, the decision to walk back up the hill into town, find a place to have a beer and wait for the next bus at 15.15 was a far more appealing option.

When we reached the entrance to the town of Castelmola, there was a lovely shiny taxi just waiting there, seemingly for us.  For 15 euro, he drove us 20 minutes down the steep windy road back to Taormina, however dropping us off at the other end of town, the far end.  Sigh.  Have I mentioned the stinking hot blazing sun already?  I felt my skin frying as we walked through town – thank the Lord for air-conditioned gelaterias.   Everyone enjoyed a gelati, except me, I had a coffee granita instead. The icy cold coffee was the perfect pick me up.

Oh hurry up and get me home!  What a mission to get home: A walk through Taormina looking at closed shop after closed shop, a walk down the hill to the funicular, a wait at the funicular, and then the never ending walk back to Villa Il Suk, our home for the week.

I collapsed on the bed for about 10 minutes, tired, hot, and a bit cranky then mustered up the energy to get changed into swimmers and jump into the Hollywood pool.  Aaaah, that’s what I needed!!

The Hollywood pool

 

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FACT FILE

La Taverna dell’Etna
Via A, De Gasperi, 29, Castelmola (ME)
Tel: +39 (0)942 28868

Tiramisu Restaurant and Pizzeria, Taormina

Our Sicilian landlady Antonia and the trusty Lonely Planet, both recommended Tiramisu restaurant in Toarmina so Zorba and I were keen to check it out. 

We arrived about 8:45pm for dinner and the waiter looked doubtful when we said we didn’t have a reservation.  Nonetheless, we were seated at a table for two near the stairs.  The setting was lovely and I immediately noticed that there were stacks of Italians in there and not that many tourists.  The area had tree-size leafy plants in large pots scattered around the restaurant, a partially covered terrace, fine cloth napery, and lovely big wine glasses.  Oh a little bit of posh I do like!

As Zorba and I had grazed with the family earlier at another restaurant that they went to with the kids (Indi 5 and Sam 3 years old), we weren’t totally famished.  We decided just to dive straight into mains.  The linguine alla scoglio with scampi, prawns, mussels and calamari (for two) sounded beautiful.  And it tasted beautiful too.  I love the way Italians can cook pasta properly – al dente.  The sauce was seafood delicate and the sauce had a lovely depth of flavour to it.  It was just so tasty!  Really, really good.

Linguine alla scoglio – delicious seafood linguine

We didn’t follow normal dining protocol and washed it down with a bottle of red rather than the text book white that is said to go with seafood, a Sicilian Nero D’Avola, which was also very good.

Well, the second bottle was good. The first bottle I ordered came to the table and it wasn’t the one I ordered. A Nero D’Avola it was, but it was from a different winery. When I quizzed the waiter about it as he was opening the bottle, he said that it was the same grape variety and that the other one I had chosen was finished.  Hmmm, I didn’t like that. He should have alerted that to me first before just going ahead to open the bottle, don’t you think?  I enquired about the price and he assured me it was the same, 16 euro per bottle.  Va bene.

The nice Nero D’Avola

When I tasted the wine however, it wasn’t nice. It was sharp, acidic, and didn’t taste like it could open up and be a lovely smooth easy drinking vino after some time airing. In fact, there was nothing at all pleasant about it.  I passed my taste remains to Zorba who concurred. I told the waiter that it wasn’t good and invited him to pour himself a taste in a clean glass to see for himself. He did just that and took the glass as far up as his nose and put it down again without tasting the wine.  He promptly apologised and brought another bottle – a Sicilian Nero D’Avola from a different winery.  A lovely one.  Hurrah!

Despite the wine mishap, the service was professional and efficient, the prices were reasonable, the setting was lovely, and our meal was delicious!

FACT FILE

Tiramisu Restaurant
Via Cappuccini 1, Taormina
Tel: +39 (0)942 24803

Trattoria Don Ciccio, Taormina

This gorgeous little trattoria off a side street from the main pedestrianised drag of Taormina has cute little balconies that step down to follow the gradient the of the sloped street.

It was 11pm when we sat down for dinner.  Yes, 11pm.  But after the huge day of travelling, the transfer from Catania airport to Taormina, the check in process that seemed to take forever, then the walk to the funicular up to Taormina, and then the lap of the hill top town we did before finally choosing a restaurant.  No wonder we were knackered!

Trattoria Don Ciccio did not disappoint us for our first dinner in Sicilia.  My feet were aching and it was a relief just to sit down.

I was delighted to see caponata on the menu – I’ll have one of those thanks!  Caponata is cooked a little like a ratatouille but has eggplant, pinenuts, raisins, and a agrodolce sauce – sweet and sour.  Zorba and I shared it as a starter and the memories the taste brings back makes it one of my most favourite Sicilian dishes.

Zorba wanted pasta for dinner because his favourite pasta con sarde (pasta with sardines) was on the menu.

It was a hard choice for me, in the end I chose a fresh pasta dish typical to the area, pasta campanelle with mussels, zucchini, and mint.  It was a combination I’ve never tried before, and one I want to try again and again.  The mint was fresh and it goes so well with zucchini.  The fresh pasta was made and cooked perfectly, absolutely delicious.  Buonissimo!

This was washed down with a very quaffable carafe of house red wine.

For dessert, we decided to wander down the street and have a gelato – this was around 12.30am. Surprisingly, some of the shops were still open and if I wanted a new pair of shoes post midnight, this wish could be accommodated in Taormina.  We stumbled in the door totally full and spent around 1.15am.  ‘Twas a really wonderful first night out in Sicilia.

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Dreaming of this villa

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In two weeks, Zorba and I will be leaving for Italy. It’s so close now I can almost taste it!  I’m dreaming of this villa in Taormina in Sicily where we will be staying.

The whole family will be staying at this villa all together – all eight of us, including my little five year old niece and three year old nephew.

Sadly, this villa is not for our own exclusive use, we have to share it with others in the resort. As they say, sharing is caring… Ciao for now!

Our little Sicilian home

Driving from Siracusa to a holiday apartment in Calatabiano near Giardini Naxos was easy with the Tom Tom.  The apartment, which the lovely Maria showed us around before leaving us to it, was a near-new construction and very well appointed – a big master bedroom, good size second bedroom, TV, full size fully equipped kitchen, a washing machine (yay!!) and a massive terrazza or roof terrace that looked out towards Calatabiano Castle on one side and Mt Etna on the other.  A lock up garage was a bonus to protect our little Fiat Bravo when parked at home.

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View from the roof terrace: Mt Etna on the left, the town of Calatabiano on the right.

We were looking forward to buying some local produce and cooking.  I was also looking forward to showing Zorba around Taormina, the ‘Amalfi Coast of Sicilia’ as it is sometimes referred to.  We took the Bravo and drove 20 minutes along a twisty windy road to Taormina.  Then the head ache of having a car began when we tried to find a place to park.  In the end we ended up parking in a big paid car park half way down the cliff from where Taormina is perched and walked up 6million stairs to the top.  No joke. It was stair city.  I kept telling myself it was good for my quads…

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Taormina was pumping on a Sunday evening with every man and his wife, kids and dog out for the evening passagiata, or evening stroll.  The purpose of passagiata, which takes place every evening between about 7pm and 9pm, is to get dressed up and slowly stroll up and down the main street checking out what everyone else is wearing. It is FANTASTIC people watching and something Zorba and I have both really enjoyed doing.   The designer shops in Taormina were all open, so that meant more sitting on the steps of a monument for Zorba and some browsing in shops by me.  I have been so good this trip and hardly bought a thing.  Probably because my back pack is too heavy as it is and I HAVE to find a way to get the weight of it down.  Not sure how that can be achieved just yet…there’s not that much I’m carrying that can be sacrificed… my hair straightener maybe?  Cry cry – I think it is going to have to go… and so are some of my toiletries.  I love my STUFF but hate lugging it all around… sigh – shall stress about that at the end of this trip when I wont have big strong Zorba around to help me… cry cry, makes me sad to think about that too…

Anyhooo, back to Taormina…

It is a beautiful ancient walled city with gates at each end of the historical centre, where all the action’s at.  It is also an expensive little place – like Positano.  We had dinner in a little restaurant just outside the city walls, situated on a second level on a terrace, called La Siciliana.  Zorba had homemade pasta with spinach and ricotta, and I had pasta with prawns and saffron cream.  Quite nice.  The outdoor setting looked lovely, but in reality we were the dinner for all the mosquitoes around that chose to dine on my bare legs!  It was hard to enjoy dinner when every few minutes I was reaching down to slap a mozzie!

After dinner, the passagiata crowd had dwindled right down, and we stopped for a cannoli before heading to our home to that apartment.

While we stayed at the apartment, we spent time hanging out at Giardini Naxos, a living seaside town that seemed to missing the usual tourists this time of year attracts.  There were many free public beaches available and we made use of those, topping up the tan and chilling out.  There were also heaps of restaurants on the beach front promenade with big TVs showing the world cup games.  Yay.

Dancing seems to be popular and one night in Giardini, we watched a ballroom dancing competition in the main piazza by the Church of St John the Baptist.  It was great!  By the time we saw all the action in the piazza, it was after we’d had dinner and on our way home – it was 11pm yet there were heaps of people out.  Loads of old pensioner types, loads of families, loads of young ones.  There was some freestyle dancing on an open dance floor, but that ended just as we got there and the dancing competition started.  They had to do all sorts of different dances, samba, tango, foxtrot, waltz…etc.  We both enjoyed watching it.

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We made friends with a butcher in Giardini who sold us the most delicious pork and tomato sausages and very tender steak.  A big rump steak that fed both of us twice, cost 5 euro. That works out at 1.25 euro per serve or A$1.70.  Cheap as you like, and good quality too.   We pay for too much for food in Australia, particularly in Perth.  In the local supermarket, they sell pure alcohol!  100% pure alcohol!  It too was cheap at 5 euro for 750ml. I wanted to buy some and send it to Nonno so he can make proper limoncello!  But I didn’t, since it’s highly illegal. 

Giardini Naxos was also the place where we have had the best ever cannoli to date.  A little pattisceria on the road behind the beach promenade road made them fresh to order.  Absolute heaven.  Sweet velvety ricotta filling dotted with little chocolate bits, stuffed inside a crunchy open ended shell with pistachio and candied fruit decorating the ends.  Oooooohhhh yeah!

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We had some lovely meals on the terrazza under the stars.  From fresh pasta (that I bought, not made!) with tuna, capers from Lipari, olives and tomatoes, to antipasto with different cheeses, salamis and cured meats, buffalo mozzarella, marinated anchovies, and the tastiest tomatoes you have ever had, and not to forget the fresh and absolutely delectable pork and tomato sausages with crisp salad, and rump steak with marinated zucchini and parmesan and rocket salad.  We bought little roma tomatoes for 0.55 euro per kilo!! That’s about A$0.80 oh so cheap!  We ate well when at home! Zorba keeps telling me I’ll  make a good wife one day…!

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The terrazza was a great escape from every day life in the apartment building. Not many other residents used their roof terraces, so often you would have no one around you and the sounds of life going on below would be subdued.  The roof terrace was my favourite part of the apartment. 

Love Lipari

Zorba and I love the little island life.  Lipari is the biggest of the Aeolian Islands off Sicily’s north-west coast.  We booked into the very comfortable yet affordable Diana Brown B&B at 50 euro per night, initially for two nights.  After the first night, we extended our stay by another two nights.

Just as we stepped off the ferry, the Azzurri’s last world cup game was being played.  All the bars on the main street had multiple TVs out the front and the place was packed with passionate Italian football fans.  Italy sadly lost that game and at one point I thought a riot was going to break out when Slovakia scored their second goal and the score was 2-0.  Chairs were almost hurled at the TV, fists pounded tables, loads of boo-ing and sounds of disbelief and disappointment.  Then Italia came back with a goal and the sounds of excitement started to rise.  Then the nail in the Azzurri’s world cup coffin came – Slovakia scored a third goal and half of the Italians watching the game got up and left, in a huff, not caring that there was still 20 minutes of play to go.   It was quite a sight!

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We booked ourselves into a boat tour of nearby islands Panarea and the famous active volcano, Stromboli.  Zorba really really wanted to climb the volcano, giving me the option to chill out on the boat, or join him.  As I’ve done the boat tour before, i decided to do the climb and had a couple of days to psyche myself up for it, and go shopping for some appropriate trousers to wear.

Dinner on our first night was at La Pizzetta da Nino Subba, a restaurant tucked away from the main street that seemed popular with the Italians.  I had the most delicious involtini di pesce spada – or rolled stuffed sword fish – ever.  Soft, succulent, firm, tasty – sensational.  We had a caponata di Lipari – or Liparian style sweet and sour eggplant which was really good too, one of the best caponatas I have had in Sicily.  A great dinner.

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The next day we were up reasonably early and decided to walk to the beach, apparently 30 minutes away.  It was longer than 30 minutes and I should have known better than to trust anyone in Italy with times (or distances).  The walk did us good however and we were quite impressed with what we saw.  The beach was nice and we decided to go home (to Diana Brown), get organised and go back to the beach for the afternoon.  Two lettini and an umbrella cost 13 euro, about the same price as Positano, and we enjoyed a blissful relaxing afternoon snoozing in the sun.

For dinner we went back to the same place, La Pizzetta, because we both wanted to try the long thin pizza we saw other diners having there the night before.  The long pizza had different sections of fillings – the first 5th had olives and capers, the second 5th had soft cheese, the third had mushrooms, etc.  It was really good!   We ordered bottled wine instead of house wine this time and fell into bed happy and full.

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The following day was the boat trip to Panarea and Stromboli.  Panarea is very pretty and looks just like a beautiful Greek island – white washed walls, blue shutters and doors on all the houses and electrifying colour beaming from the over hanging bougainvillea. It is lovely.  Last time I was there with Donna in 2008, we had the best seafood pasta I have eaten, ever. Zorba and I tried to re-live that gastronomic moment by ordering that pasta from the same place. It was good, delicious in fact, but not the world’s best that day… Panarea is the island of the rich and famous resulting in lots of great boutique shops. I went to one and saw a sale rack. Oh goodie!!  I picked up these balloon pants (all the rage in Italy at the moment) and they felt like silk, but were priced at 15 euro.  I asked the cute little shop assistant if they were silk and she said yes and showed me the tag, explaining that they were cheap because they were the last pair in the store.  I tried them on and they were like wearing, um, silk. So soft, so comfortable, so light, so mine!  Yay!  A new purchase! I’m hoping they will be good for Egypt, the next major destination of my journey after a short stop in London.

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On our way to Stromboli, we went past a boat party – 4 boats tied together with a heap of young things in bikinis and boardies dancing to Black Eyed Peas “I got a feeling” – it was like a music video, a Brittney Spears clip!  A part of me was wishing I was 20-something on that boat dancing and drinking with them… oh to be young and dumb again…!

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It was time for the Stromboli mountain climb. I was very hesitant, Zorba was very excited.  I knew I was in for a world of pain that would last hours and hours, but that didn’t deter Zorba, nor me for that matter. I wanted to have a crack climbing the mountain and knew that with Zorba next to me, I’d be ok.  Three hours up, two hours down.  We had to bring a change of t-shirt, warm clothes, long pants, a big bottle of water, picnic dinner / food to eat, flash light, hiking boots (the last two items are available for hire).   Up we trekked.  It was not the slightly inclined meandering walk some had said it was.  It was sheer hard bloody work and oh-so steep. We were climbing over lose rocks and along narrow paths – one foot wrong and you would go tumbling down the mountain.  The safety standards did not exist and it made me very nervous.

I was thankful they made me rent hiking boots, my little merrells whilst comfy, would not have cut it.  And I was also thankful for the long bamboo walking stick I had that I used to haul my butt up that frigging mountain.  At one point at the start of the climb when the sun was still beaming down on us, I thought I was going to pass out. Then our guide Marco said it was time for a “pausa”, a little break, and that saved me.  Breathe, breathe, breathe, some water, some nuts, some more water, ok, my heart rate was down to a non-dangerous level and I was ready to go again.  This went on for three hours.  Three HOURS!!!  If I’m not 2kg lighter after this, I’m calling for a refund!

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I mean, if they can build a path with rails on Uluru (Ayers Rock) that is a sacred site, surely they can build a path and put up hand safety rails up a mountain?  I was surprised that anyone who paid the money could participate in climbing Stromboli, to me, it is dangerous.  But I did it!  We did it.  Exhausted, hurting, aching, and bruised, we did it.  It was freezing cold up there, but we did it.  There was a full moon and as the sun was setting the moon was big and orange, just beautiful.  I got to see the volcano explode four times from its three craters from reasonably close proximity.  It’s fair to say that I will never see anything like that again in my lifetime.  I sure as hell won’t be climbing any more mountains again in a hurry either!!!

We got back on the boat at 11pm, utterly spent. Destroyed.  And the trip back to Lipari took forever, and it was freezing cold.  Urgh.  Eventually we got home, had long hot showers – they had to be long as the water pressure was non existent at Diana Brown, despite the nice new bathrooms. We fell into bed at 1am. 

The next day we did nothing.  Lazed in bed, wandered down the street to get some food, relaxed on the sun chairs on the roof terrace, napped, and just chilled out.  We did make the effort at 4pm to go out and watch the England game. How disappointing!!  I can’t believe I was cheering on the poms and they got thrashed by the Germans 4-1.  A beating!! The poms had very poor refereeing too, just like many teams had in the tournament, so I felt sorry for them. I was so hoping Germany would go down!  I am still sore after they beat Australia 4-0 in the opening game.

Still aching and hurting from yesterday’s climb, we had an easy night.  Ready to head to our apartment near Taormina next.

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On the road to Siracusa

Upon checking out of the very comfortable B&B Baglio in Mondello, the friendly Giovanni behind the counter asked us where we were going next.  “Siracusa,” I replied, expecting a reaction of ‘che bella’ or something along those lines from him.  Noooo, instead, Giovanni screwed up his nose and said, “Ma, perche Siracusa?” (why Siracuse?). I explained that I had read and heard that it was beautiful there – the trusty travel bible, the Lonely Planet says it is the most visited city in Sicily, and to date, the Lonely Planet has never been wrong.  Giovanni said that Noto, not too far from Siracusa, was very very beautiful and we had to go there.  We were planning a day trip there anyway, and after hearing Giovanni’s enthusiasm for the place, we decided we would head to Noto.  It’s only about 38km from Siracusa anyway and we decided to do one night in each place.

The drive from Mondello, in the far north-eastern side of Sicily, to Noto, in the far south-western side of the island was to take about 4 hours.  Before leaving, Zorba insisted on going to the supermarket to buy some proscuito, mozzarella, tomatoes and bread rolls to make panini for lunch while on the road. I argued – let’s make life easy and just buy panini already made up. No no no, the Greek wanted it his way and that is what we did. Sigh. 

Off we set, car packed, groceries bought.  After being a nervous wreck in the car yesterday, today I was moderately calmer, and Zorba seemed to be too.  During our time in Mondello, we both made mental notes of the signs pointing to the autostrada, so we got out of Mondello withouut incident.  The ring road around Palermo was a nightmare.  The three lanes that were marked on the road were ignored, as cars, buses, trucks, scooters, apes, and cyclists chose to form their own lanes resulting in chaos – no surprises really, just what you would expect in a big crazy Sicilian city.

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Zorba had turned into a local Sicilian driver – he was making his owns lanes, nudging past other vehicles as needed, even tooting those who got too close. I was glad – after all, any damage to the Fiat Bravo was going to cost me 1400 euro!  About 45 minutes later, we were out of the city traffic, onto the autostrada, heading for Catania (and would have to turn off for Siracusa.).   Zorba was in automobile heaven on the autostrada, speeding along doing 140kmph or more, and I just sat back and tried to take in the view and not watch how close my side of the car was when he passed trucks.

Lunch was in a road side petrol station – in the car park.  I got my swiss army knife out and used plastic bags with the useless map of Italia the grumpy lady at auto europa car hire gave us as a chopping board, and got to work making us panini, because Zorba didn’t want to buy a pre made one.   No one else around us was making their lunch, there weren’t any picnic tables under trees for us to sit at, we were chopping tomatoes on the parcel shelf of the Fiat Bravo, stuffing the bread rolls with proscuito, fresh mozzarella, and awkwardly cut tomatoes.  It became apparent quite quickly that my swiss army knife needs sharpening!  Zorba then sat on the kerb and ate his panini, ooh-ing and aaah-ing the whole time saying how beautiful it was.  Meanwhile, I felt like a peasant, got grumpy, and sat in the car with door open eating mine.  They have good food in Italy – really they do – so in my mind there is no need to return to scuzzy backpacker days of having to make your own bread roll lunch to save a few dollars.  For Zorba, it wasn’t about the money, but about having the freshest panini he could.  He had a point there i guess….

After an oh so pleasant lunch (cough, cough), we were on the autostrada and Zorba was again possessed by the Michael Schumacher driving spirit and reached warp-9 speed as we approached Catania.  He was loving it.  I was ignoring it.   The hotel in Noto listed in the Lonely Planet with parking had a room available for tonight – so that’s where we headed.  Finding the hotel was a challenge  as it is in a little suburban street about 15 minutes walk  up hill into the historical centre.    Hotel della Ferla on via Antonio Gimsci was adequate, basic, and not much to write about really. The best thing about the hotel, besides the owner’s son parking the car for us, is the recommendation the old night porter gave us for dinner.

Noto historical centre is really beautiful – Sicily’s most preserved baroque town with stunning architecture and a pedestrian only main street in the evenings.  It reminded me a little bit of Lecce in Puglia, the carved limestone columns of the churches, the ornate brackets / supports of the balconies, the decorative borders of the church rooves.   We walked around the town stopping in to look at cathedrals and churches, then decided it was aperitivo time.  We were both quite weary yet hungry so decided to have an early dinner at 8pm.  We were in Sicilia don’t forget so eating before 9.30pm was unheard of.  Tonight I didn’t care.  We walked to one of the recommended restaurants Trattoria Giufa on vicolo C. Pisacane, 3 (t:3207496682). 

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As suspected, we were the first people there at 8.05pm.  I ordered coniglio – rabbit – cooked with vegetables, mainly because I was interested in what it tasted like and had been eating fish, pasta or pizza every night for ages.  Zorba had home made pasta mollica, with anchovies and breadcrumbs.  Both of our dishes were excellent. The Nero D’Avola house wine was cheap at 3 euro for a half litre and smooooth.  A terrific dining experience that cost about 38 euro, or about A$65 including a mixed antipasto to start with, and liqueurs afterwards (the softy had limoncello, and I had grappa!) – how cheap!

The next day we headed to Siracusa, stopping at Avola, where the wine Nero d’Avola comes from.  Avola is ok – a little town with a couple of nice piazzas and lots of enotecca (wine shops) and that’s about it.  We parked at one piazza, walked around, got hopelessly lost, before finally finding the car and driving to Siracusa.

On our way to Siracusa, my little map app on my iPhone was causing some grief.  The little blue dot that says where you are kept bouncing around from street to street, resulting in us taking a wrong turn.  It was quite a fortunate wrong turn as we went past a big electrical store – bit like Harvey Norman or Retravision.  I asked Zorbs if he wanted to stop and see if they had any GPS’s for sale and he said yes.  We went in, were ignored for several minutes by the shop assistants before being served by one guy who was actually leaving for a holiday in Australia that week.  He spoke a little English but explained the Tom Tom options to us and helped us set up our chosen one.   Whoo-hoo!  A new gadget! We love our Tom Tom – Zorba loves it so much he wants to carry it around with him all day!  We were now in safe hands and my role as co-driver was almost redundant. Yay!

In Siracusa, we jagged ‘rock star’ parking right at the front of our hotel, Hotel Alfeo.  This is the nicest hotel we have stayed in to date.  It cost the same as a the hotel in Noto, but was 4-star and really beautiful and posh. We were stoked!!  Loads of interesting art decorated the lobby, our rooms were modern, the bathrooms big, the TV a large flat screen – we even had our own little terrazza or roof terrace!!  Happy happy.

The hotel was about 15 minutes walk into town, which was ok, and that’s where we headed.  We saw the ruins of the temple dedicated to Apollo, a tribute to the sea and loads of shops.  Oh joy! The shopping in Siracusa looked good!!  The main piazza is very picturesque and the narrow streets reminded us of Rome and the areas around Campo de Fiori (no traffic). 

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We both really liked Siracusa, and as the shops were shutting at 1.30pm, we headed to the seaside to find a place for lunch.  Restaurant Luna Rossa looked good and had a big screen showing the world cup, so we parked ourselves there, ate a mixed tuna salad at 11 euro each and got ripped off when we discovered that they charged 4 euro per person for the coperta, or cover charge.  Oh well.

With all the shops closing, we wandered back to our very lovely hotel and had a bit of a siesta.  Zorba woke me at 3.45pm and said that the Australia v Ghana game was starting in 15 minutes.  So I stretched, had a shower under the amazing large square ‘rain’ shower head (oh joy!) and got myself together.  At 4pm and we switched on the big screen TV in our room only to discover the game wasn’t on!!  What?  WHY?  We flicked through all the channels twice and there was no world cup games on any of them.  Oh crap, it must be on Sky.  So we darted out of the hotel, quickly asking the receptionist where the closest bar to the hotel was that would be showing the world cup.  She shrugged her shoulders and said we could try one up the road about 5 minute walk (away from the centre of town).  We were almost running along the footpath, popping our heads into every bar – nope – no one was showing the world cup.

The only thing we could do was go back into town – we knew two places were showing the game – the rip off place where we had lunch, and another funky small bar that was inside and quite dark and arty.  I didn’t care where we went, I just had to get somewhere quick.  The game was already underway and we were missing it!!

We couldn’t find the dark arty bar and ended up back at Luna Rossa, the rip off lunch place.  I had my Australian flag and laid it over the table and ordered a large beer for the Greek, and a lemon granita for me and got there to watch the last 10 minutes of the first half.  The owners and waiters were very friendly, chatting to us, talking about the world cup, laughing at my reactions to the game, and generally being nice.  After the game where Australia played the bulk of the game with 10 men (another wrong red card) and drew 0-0, I went to pay the bill.  Again, we were charged a 4 euro cover charge – “but we didn’t eat” I protested.  “It doesn’t matter – service is service”.  16 euro for one large beer and a granita was a joke.  GRrrrrr. Hate being ripped off!  Then again, we didn’t have much choice on where we could watch the game, so again, we just copped it and vowed to never go there again and I promised myself I would write a bad review on trip advisor.

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We wandered around the shops and went for an aperitivo in a tiny little bar that again was very arty abut it was tucked away from the main action and full of only Italians.   A Spritz with Aperol and a large beer for Zorba cost 7 euro, and we also got a mini panini each and some nibbles.  I did a trip advisor search for restaurants and one close to where we are that had rave reviews from tourists, but mixed reviews from Italians was Il Fermento on via del Crocifisso, 46 (Tel 0931 6442).  We decided to try it.

The restaurant was very quiet, with only one older American couple there who were ooh-ing and aaah-ing about their meals when we arrived.  A good sign! The lovely owner greeted us warmly and sat us down.  The rounded cavern ceiling and naked brick walls added the ancient ambience of the place.  After hearing the owner’s teenage daughter explain the Americans that their meal was served with caponatina, I asked if we could order that as an antipasto. Nothing was too much trouble.  The house red was a nero d’avola, and it was smooth, velvety, and delicious.

Zorba ordered spaghetti with Ricci – or sea urchin, and I had sea bream fish cooked with sliced zucchini that covered it like a soft shell, served on a bed of pureed roasted yellow peppers.  Oh. My. God.  Mine was delicious, and Zorba’s was nice too – he loved it.  His pasta was not for me as I found the taste too ‘fishy’. Zorba loves anchovies and sardines, so he was very happy with his meal.  For dessert we shared a tiramisu.  I don’t know why I even bother to order tiramisu, the one I make is soooo much nicer.  When I saw it listed on the menu, I was curious as to what it tasted like, so thought I’d give is a try… it was ok, but nothing special. Not like the fish i ordered!  So delicious.  Yum!

We stumbled home to our plush hotel, went onto our private little terrace and dancing Zorba wanted to dance under the stars, so I obliged for about 3 minutes before deciding that I needed to lie down.  

Siracusa is great – it has everything, art, history, architecture, lively street life, great bars and shops, and cheap excellent hotels.  I would recommend it to anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons in driving in Sicilia

Lesson 1:  always stick to the main roads

Lesson 2:  make sure you have a Greek around who can do the driving for you

Lesson 3: invest in a Tom Tom

Lesson 4;  hire the smallest size car you can

After a blissful three nights living the island life in Favignana, we returned to the mainland, Trapani, ready to pick up our hire car and explore Sicilia.  First stops: Erice and Segesta – both places date back to 6th century BC – yes peeps, BC, more than 2500 years ago.

The lady working at Auto Europa car hire had the misconception that her job was THE most important and stressful job on the planet.  She would not release the car to us without a print off of the car hire voucher.  I tried to show her on my iPhone email that I had the voucher there with all the information – NO! Not acceptable.  “I muuuuuust huv the prrrrrrrint-tt outta of de voucherrrrrr” GRRR.  I offered to email it to her so she could print it out from her computer – NO!  “I dontta huv an emaile herrrrre”.  BullSHIT is what I wanted to scream. In the end, I called the booking agent in Ireland who faxed the stressed out car hire chick the voucher.  She quickly went over the Fiat Bravo to point out the existing scratches, and handed us the keys and said, “bye” and trotted off.  “Wait wait wait!” I called out.  “are you going to give us a map or anything? or can we get a Tom Tom?”  There were no Tom Toms left, and she threw me a map of Italy (useless) and said very curtly, ‘bye”.  Yeah, f-off to you too lady!.  Luckily the mechanic was there and must’ve seen the look of bewilderment on our faces – he was lovely and helped us by asking where we were going and giving us directions out of the city.

The first shift in driving was mine.   I nervously got us out of Trapani and up the twisty windy roads of the mountain to the beautiful ancient town of Erice.  Zorba was quite a nervous passenger, and I was a pretty nervous driver.  Not because of the car, but because it’s so hard to judge the distance of the passenger side of the car when driving left hand drive.  The windy road up to Erice was pretty narrow, which made it interesting when a big bus or truck came screaming around the corner.

Erice is gorgeous.  It has an imposing castle on top of the hill which is also the site of the temple that was built for the Goddess Venus back in the 6th C BC.  During the Roman era, Erice remained a sacred town devoted to Venus and in the castle, sacred prostitution was practiced.  Trust the Romans to make prostitution a sacred practice!!

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The town is hilly and has lots of narrow streets made from stones – not flat stones mind you, round ones, so walking on them is not very comfortable. Tip:  if you ever go to Erice, wear runners.   Erice was baking hot – stifling hot.  The sun was blazing down and there was no shade and no breeze to provide any relief.  After a salad for lunch, we decided it was too hot to stay there any longer and made our way to Segesta where the most perfectly preserved Greek temple stands.  Before leaving though, I bought a decent road map of Sicilia.

I asked Zorba if he wanted to drive and he said yes, so off we went, with the Greek at wheel.  Zorba then understood the difficulty in judging the passenger side of the car, but did a good job getting us to Segesta. Segesta was pretty spectacular.  There’s nothing else there besides a tourist shop, ancient amphitheatre (2km up the hill – take the bus) and the ancient temple.   After a lemon granita and a look around the monuments, it was 4pm and we thought we better find a place to stay.

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Zorba at the wheel and off we went towards Palermo with the view of finding an agriturismo (farm stay) to stay in not too far from the auto strada.  To find a farm stay we had to get off the autostrada – and did.  I was following the map very closely as Zorba was driving.   We decided Zorba was better at driving and I was better at giving directions and reading maps.  Off the main road we went, onto a smaller highway.  Then Zorbs decided we should take the smaller road to where we wanted to go.   Ok cool!  I envisaged open roads, flanked by farmland, dotted with cute agriturismi every so often – instead we arrived into automobile hell. 

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Here we were driving in narrow narrow pot-holed streets, buildings lapping the curb, cars, vespas and scooters carrying whole families, trucks, buses, and the three wheeler mini utes – apes – everywhere. Cars would tear past us, shaving our duco without giving it a second thought.  I was terrified!!  Every five minutes I would see a truck coming straight for us with the road barely wide enough for it, let alone
wide enough for the truck and us in a Fiat Bravo, a car about the same width as a Holden Astra or Toyota Corolla.

I just braced myself and shut my eyes, expecting the hear the sounds of smashing glass and our Fiat Bravo being crushed every five minutes.  To top it all off, we were hopelessly lost. The little streets were not shown on the road map I had, so Zorba would ask me in a panicked voice, “which way?” and I couldn’t help.  After about 30 minutes of being trapped in automobile hell, i got my iPhone out and used the map on it to get us out of there – stuff the cost, this was a crisis.  My knuckles were white, my lip blistered it’d bitten it so much, and my nerves wrecked.  Thank God for the Greek. If he wasn’t there driving, I don’t know how I would have coped.  I would have pulled into someone’s drive way and waited until 2am until the madness stopped and attempted to drive out of there then…

The iPhone helped, but it took several attempts. That stupid blue dot that tells you where you are kept jumping from street to street – so i thought we were somewhere, then the ball would jump to the parallel street to say we were there.  So i’d look up for a road sign and see a bus coming straight for us and Zorba swerving as close to the parked cars on my side of the road as he could. Aaarrrrgh we are going to hit the car on my side!!   I kept freaking out, which didn’t help him – but it was a reaction i had no control over. I thought our time was up and we’d end up dying in automobile hell, leaving our families with a massive car rental damage bill in the process.

Two hours of sheer nervous frightened terror later, and we were back on a ‘super strada’ or high way, and heading to the beach side town of Mondello, an outer suburb of Palermo.  Phew, we made it out of automobile hell alive.  It was 8.30pm before we arrived at the very comfortable B&B Baglio – which for 80 euro per night, with an extra 5 euro for parking, was exactly what we needed.  It was secure, new, and for now, our little oasis of calmness. 

Mondello is a big seaside city beach town with amusement parks, loads of expensive promenade bars, Moroccans selling cheap jewellery, and a very lively atmosphere.  For a night, this place would do just fine.

For dinner we choose a pizzeria away from the promenade and had the best pizza in Italia to date.  Better than Di Buffa in Rome, better than the place we waited an hour for in Palermo, better than all of them.   I had a pizza I’ve never seen or had before. It was called a Cattevio – or something similar – and only the pizza base was cooked, the rest of the ingredients were placed on top – rocket, proscuito crudo, shaved parmesan, cherry tomatoes – my god it was YUM!!!  Washed down with a beer, yay!  We turned in about midnight. I was not looking forward to being the car again the next day, but as they say, I had to “toughen up princess”.