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’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dreaming of this villa

Image

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!

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.

Taormina Giardini Naxos 006 

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). 

Siracusa Noto 013 Siracusa Noto 014 Siracusa Noto 018 Siracusa Noto 023

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). 

Siracusa Noto 045 Siracusa Noto 040 Siracusa Noto 041

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.

Siracusa Noto 062 Siracusa Noto 056 Siracusa Noto 058

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!!

Favignana Erice Segesta 114 Favignana Erice Segesta 129 Favignana Erice Segesta 132 Favignana Erice Segesta 134 Favignana Erice Segesta 137

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.

Favignana Erice Segesta 153 Favignana Erice Segesta 155 Favignana Erice Segesta 170 Favignana Erice Segesta 181

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. 

Taormina Giardini Naxos 006

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”. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabulous Favignana

From Palermo, a 2.5 hour train trip on a near empty and quite decent train took us to Trapani. From Trapani train station we WALKED, carrying 21.5kg on my back and probably about 7kg on my front, about 1km to the port to catch the ferry to Favignana.   My poor spine, legs, hips, everything.  It was a struggle and made me realise that I really have to get rid of some stuff….  Zorba of course offered to carry it, but I was proving a point and being a hero and insisted that I do it.

Favignana is very small and in many ways reminds of Rottnest Island in Perth – push bikes, azure blue water – one difference was that there are heaps of good restaurants to choose from in Favignana – more than one pub and one rip off seafood place!  And accommodation was cheap (in June).  Our new two bedroom apartment was 40 euro per night!  Fully stocked kitchen, too much Ikea furniture (way to much storage, but all nice and new), and about 500 metres from the centre of town. June is a good time to come to this island, before it gets packed in July and August (and more expensive).

We did a stack hand washing (urgh) because there is no laundrette on the island.  No where you can take your washing to get it done. I was astounded – this island caters for thousands of tourists every season… I asked the nice overweight but unhelpful apartment administrator what do all the other tourists did when needed to wash their clothes and I was promptly told that they hand wash.  There’s a gap in the market people – open a laundrette in Favignana, team it with an internet cafe – because there isn’t one there either, and you will have a lovely summer business.

We watched Italia draw with Paraguay in Favignan’s trendist bar called Carmello Brillo which played really loud ‘world music’ before and after the game as well as during half time.  We had apertivi there – drinks with free food / snacks that consisted of cous cous, dips (two yum, one disgusting), bread, and mini brushetta with tuna.

The next day we hired push bikes for two days and explored this little island. The water is azure blue and crystal clear – the colour is amazing, beautiful. Zorba went for a swim at Cala Azzurre, the bluest of the waters.  I went in to my knees, but it was freezing – really icy freezing – and not worth the pain.  We rode off the beaten track, riding on dirt paths, until deciding to settle at a beach called Lido Borsilla where we hired 2 lettinos and an umbrella for 15 euro.  It was lovely for 45 min until the weather changed and a dark cloud came over bringing with it a strong wind.

Favignana Erice Segesta 056 Favignana Erice Segesta 064 Favignana Erice Segesta 089 Favignana Erice Segesta 092

Oh well, we told the beach attendant we’d been there for under an hour and wanted to use our lettini again tomorrow – not possible, but we would get a discount. I made him write that on the back of my scontrino (docket).

For lunch we ate at cheap little Trattoria called U’ Spiticchiu on via Roma, 19.   Zorba had a really delicious spaghetti con sarde (sardines), and I had spaghetti with bottarga di tonno (dried tuna roe). Both were delicious and the tuna and caper salad we started with was fresh and crunchy. Yum!  Il conto (bill) came to 25 euro.  Reasonable.

We went back to that restaurant for dinner the next day, after paying 65 euro for dinner at Due Colone (two columns) restaurant the night before, which in my mind was delicious (particularly the caponata, my favourite Sicilian sweet and sour eggplant dish with pine nuts and sultanas), but Zorba thought it was over priced.   U’ Spiticchiu was full and we were told that there would be a table ready in about 20 minutes.  Urgh. Here we were once again waiting for food… In hindsight, we should have just gone somewhere else, but we waited, and waited, and waited.  40 minutes later we were seated and starving and over ordered, as you do.  We both had spaghetti con sarde (sardines) and then I had tuna argodolce – sweet and sour which I gave the thumbs up, and Zorbs had tuna steak which was dry and over cooked. He was not happy.  The caponata was not fantastic either, so I didn’t eat it, which meant Zorba did. He can’t leave food and will eat to the point of bursting rather than leave food. I don’t understand it, but it is the way he is…

Favignana is tuna country – they have a tuna killing ritual each year that apparently tourists can go and watch called Mattanza.  It sounds gruesome however guide books say that killing tuna with spears the traditional way was a very sustainable way of fishing.  Now days, modern techniques have seen the tuna numbers dwindle in the area.   One fish monger had a fresh tuna hanging by his shop front – it was HUGE – I had no idea blue fin tuna were bigger than a man.  This guy had a party trick too – he cut some fresh tuna, stand on the street holding  it in his hand and a big seagull the size of an eagle would swoop down and take it out of his hand!  I’ve never seen a seagull being hand fed before. It was cool!  I got the best photo of it too!

Favignana Erice Segesta 069 Favignana Erice Segesta 070 Favignana Erice Segesta 084

Our last day in Favignana was picture perfect beach weather.  We got two lettini and umbrella at the beach for 8 euro and parked ourselves there for the day.  Aaaahhhh.  Sun, sea, snoozing – delightful!

Next, we have a hire car for a week that we are picking up in Trapani – no idea where we will end up! Adventure awaits!

 

 

Palermo – Sicilia

After two buses from Positano and a flight from Napoli, I was not really in the mood for  more public transport, so we caught a taxi to our 4-star hotel in Palermo, the Mecure.  I booked it a few days ago for the bargain price of 59euro per night, including breakfast.  The hotel is big and modern and very comfortable. It doesn’t really fit in with Palermo’s ancient architecture, but it is lovely to stay somewhere where everything works, the shower drains properly, and the bathroom is stocked with free tubes of gel and shampoo.   We also had an internet connection in our room!  A first so far on our trip!

We got to work online straight away, trying to figure out the next few days – where will we go, where will we stay, etc.  We’ve decided to go from Palermo straight to Favignana for three nights, then will pick up a hire car from Trapani for a week and take it from there.  We have one week before we are booked into accommodation outside of Taormina.  Yay! Sorted.

We headed out about 7.45pm and I was amazed with the beauty of the big old grand palaces in Palermo.  It is a little like Havana in Cuba – in that you can see how beautiful and grand these buildings would have been in their hey-day, but now they are dirty, old, bit crumpling…. Not all of them mind you.   Palermo is much dirtier than Rome and the city feels poorer – everything here is cheaper.  It also feels a bit seedier than Rome, particularly at night. 

The Lonely Planet recommended a couple of restaurants that we thought we’d check out, so we headed to the Vucciria area.  We didn’t find the restaurant mentioned in the book, but did find one with plenty of Italians inside, and also waiting outside.  The Pelledola Pizzeria in Piazza Marina 35, was heaving.  We stood there in amazement as waiters rushed past, sweating profusely, serving half roast chickens and wood fired pizzas to a hungry crowd.  There was a waiting list, so we put our names down for a table and were told ‘un mezzoretta’ – a little half hour.

Waiting, waiting, waiting…. we were being entertained with the chaotic restaurant show – waiters really earned their money there.  It was funny watching the Sicilians march in like they owned the place, only to be told that they have wait like everyone else.  It was not the kind of place you could have a lingering dinner – get in, eat, then get out.  It smelt good and we hoped it tasted just as good, given we’d waited 45 minutes to get in.   I have a policy of not queuing for food, but I was so curious as to why this place was so busy when others in the piazza and on the way here were not.  My curiosity got the better of me and Zorba felt the same way, so we waited patiently. 

As soon as we were seated, about 9.40pm, we ordered two large beers and a bottle of fizzy water – so thirsty!  For starters we had my favourite antipasto – caponata, a sweet and sour eggplant dish which is a speciality of this region, and a caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella.  Both were delicious – the caponata really hit the spot for me.  Following on, a pizza with porcini mushrooms and very tasty cherry tomatoes for 8 euro, and half a roast chicken with roast potatoes, Italian style for 6 euro.  It was cheap, hence another reason for its popularity.  We were the only tourists there and whilst I can speak Italian well enough to be understood, the Sicilians were looking at me like I’m an alien!  Well, that’s what the Sicilian dialect sounds like to me – so it’s same same but different.

182 185 188 190

The next day, Sunday, we had an easy lazy morning, ate breakfast including scrambled eggs for the first time in Italy, and went out to explore the city.  Everything was shut. What a SHAME! I didn’t even think that being in Palermo on a Sunday would be a problem. All those cheap clothes I missed out on buying!  Shame shame SHAME!  Oh well.  One place that was open, the patisseria – and I indulged before lunch and had my first (but not last) canoli.  YUMMMMM!!  God I love Sicilian food!

Palermo 002 Palermo 004 Palermo 007

We paid some grumpy guy 10 euro to take us around on the back of his Ape 3-wheeler mini ute thing and checked out the sights.  We wandered through the market that was only operating at about 10 percent of its usual capacity, and found a place near the Teatro Massimo for lunch. 

Palermo 011 Palermo 017 Palermo 020

A big platter of mixed fried seafood, followed by roast squid and a salad is what we shared and it was delicious.  Zorba particularly enjoyed it.  I made the mistake of going to use the bathroom before eating and its condition was beyond disgusting – so I chose to ‘hang on’ and thus didn’t enjoy lunch as much as perhaps I could have. 

With the city asleep and resting on a Sunday afternoon, we decided to do the same and we back to the hotel for a siesta.

We are both looking forward to watching Australia play its first World Cup game tonight.  Go boys!!!   So much so that I donned the Aussie flag as part of my evening outfit and we set out to find a bar with a good sized TV. 

On our way, the main road, Vittorio Emanuelle II was closed to traffic and open to a produce market / food tasting. Yay!  We tried some home made ‘salsicce’, which is just like a catitore sausage – delicious!!  I asked to buy a small piece and asked the guy to please cut it up into bite sized pieces for us.  It cost 2 euro and he threw in two chunks of pecorino cheese.  I went to a vegetable stall and asked to pay for a small vine of cherry tomatoes – and the man said is this all you want?  I said yes and he said just take them – they are yours. Yay! Something free!  So we wandered the markets tasting and eating delicious salami sausage, cheese, and tangy sweet tomatoes! 

Palermo 001  Favignana Erice Segesta 006 Favignana Erice Segesta 012

We found some German girls all dressed up in their colours and asked them where they were going to watch the game and they invited us to join them in a small bar (with a good tv).  Cool! We thought it could be fun, so we accepted.  In this tiny bar in Palermo there was Zorba, myself and three Italians barracking for Australia, and 18 Germans.  Going down 4-0 was torture!! I thought Australia would lose, afterall, Germany is a very strong team.  But 4-nil?  To not even score a goal – I was shattered.  G U T T E D.  Oh well, at least Italia is playing tomorrow and that might be a better result.

Next stop, little Sicilian Egadi Island of Favignana, off the east coast.