While I've hiked the Italian Dolomites, Peru's Wayna Picchu, and Yosemite's Half Dome, I was able to skirt the really scary sections, some of which are described in the Guardian today.
The first thing we do upon arrival at Naples' airport is catch the bus to Sorrento (10€/person), which should take about ninety minutes. A short wait then we get on the bus. As the bus travels south what I see brings to mind South America with dreary apartment blocks and neglected construction projects. Through the clouds I see outlines of mountains, a promising break from the monotonous sprawl in the foreground. .
As the bus heads towards Sorrento it hugs a rocky cliff. Here and there terraces hold olive trees with their nets strung between them. Homes seemingly drilled into cliffs perch periously over the Mediterranean. The scenery grows ever more spectacular with each hairpin curve of the road.
I've read that Sorrento is a good place to stay and a good transit hub.
I expect Sorrento will make a good base for exploring Naples, Pompeii and Amalfi. It's a resort town, full of hotels and restaurants and tourists, but very charming.
The hotel, the Marina Piccola 73, was once a coast guard station but now features nine modern rooms just steps from the water. I'm listening to the beat of ocean waves as I write. The only downside to the hotel is the long set of steps to get up to the town, but I figure the exercise is good.
The last thing we do this long first day of holiday is walk up to Sorrento to buy wine and eat pizza. The pizza - anchovies, tomato sauce, and basil - is wonderful but I expect that. Naples is the birthplace of pizza so they've had time to perfect it.
One picture was taken from the hotel room balcony looking out at Sorrento's small harbor. The other is the road to the harbor.
Today we catch the Circumvesuviana train in order to travel back in time to AD 79. No, we aren't becoming Dr. Who companions. Our destination is Pompeii, a city famous for being preserved in volcanic stone until it was discovered in 1594. Pompeii, in case you've forgotten your history, had the misfortune of being located a stone's throw from the active volcano Vesuvius. Today Vesuvius remains the only active volcano on the European mainland though there's another just offshore in Sicily.
Despite the discovery, excavation of Pompeii did not begin until 1748 and as of today only two-thirds is complete. Given the state of the Italian economy this last third may take awhile.
Walking through what remains of Pompeii is not unlike walking through Ephesus or Macchu Picchu. Lots of stone (what else would survive hundreds of years?) streets and walls in various states of decay. Comparing the three ruins I'd say Pompeii ranks between the two in terms of interest.
I'm no archaeologist but to me Ephesus is the least interesting of the three. It's a jumble of rocks and columns in a not-very-interesting part of Turkey. Machu Picchu, on the other hand, is a complete city composed of beautifully crafted and placed stone. Furthermore, Machu Picchu is built on a lush mountaintop and surrounded by spectacular mountain vistas.
Pompeii is more like Machu Picchu. Not quite as impressive but impressive nevertheless. It's a complete city which tells a story and offers plenty of interesting spaces for exploration.
Pompeii features stone streets that doubled as sewers, fountains, murals,mosaics, even counters with built-in holes to hold hot food (I thought the holes were toilets until the guidebook said otherwise).
Many of the artifacts discovered in Pompeii were removed from the site and placed in Naples' Museo Archeologico Nazionale.
The accompanying picture is a bit of Pompeii and not the most interesting bit at that, but it will have to do. I shoot with an iPhone to have something to accompany my posts, but the better shots will appear once I'm home and can download/process them from the dslr.
Original title: I'm f@&!ing tired.
The weather today is perfect for hiking so after an early breakfast we head out to walk the Sentiero degli dei or path of the gods. The famous path hugs the cliffs along the Amalfi coast and is said to offer spectacular views of the rocky cliffs and the towns seemingly tumbling down the hillsides to the sea.
The 6km path starts near Bomerano and ends just short of Positano. Problem is, to get to Bomerano you need to pass through Amalfi (the town, not the coast) but the road to Amalfi is closed due to a landslide. So we take the bus to Praiano to hike to the trailhead. This allows us to skip Bomerano but it adds two kilometers in the form of a steep climb.
The Amalfi coast bus ride reminds me of a roller coaster: imagine a full-sized bus speeding along a narrow hairpin-curvy mountain road, dodging parked cars, mopeds, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Add to this the fact that much of the road is hanging off a cliff high over the Mediterranean. It's spectacular - the views are picture postcard stunning - but the ride is scary. I keep telling myself the bus driver does this every day so don't worry. By the time we get off the bus I feel like I need a strong drink.
Once in Praiano we search for the trailhead. We walk up steep narrow streets. The local bus, smaller than the one we rode in on, is said to require 8-point turns along its route. The streets get smaller and smaller until they are merely passageways and stairs. Soon we are walking up one long staircase, with awkwardly high steps. We are on the stairs almost two hours because we take several breaks on the way up. Finally we reach the trailhead at about 600m elevation.
The path itself, the Sentiero degli dei, is an easy hike. Reasonably well marked with both text signs and the red/white paint stripes we are familiar with having hiked so many times in the Alps. The views are stunning: the blue sea, the rocky cliffs, the flowers and trees, and the cities of Praiano, Nocella, and Montepertuso. It is a treat for the eyes. Along the way we talk to fellow hikers and befriend a few dogs. One dog puts on a show by herding a small group of bell-ringing goats.
The trail ends in the small town of Montepertuso at which point we are back on stairs but at least we are heading down.
In Positano it's a short wait for the bus that will take us back to Sorrento. We are really looking forward to sitting down. The bus pulls up. It's full. I've read that the Amalfi coast busses are typically full but since it's off season and the road is closed before Amalfi we're surprised. Paul and I and several others stand the whole way back to Sorrento. We also soon find that the bus driver goes just as fast when full as not, and we spend the hour ride hanging on for dear life.
It's been a perfect day - thrills, chills, and lots of pretty scenery.
Two of the accompanying pictures were taken with my iPhone from the bus while we were in Positano. The rest (taken with the 24-120 at about 24) are of the Path of the Gods, which parallels the Amalfi coast. The water fountain isn't much to look at but when I saw it I felt such relief. I knew we were on the the path and were through climbing the steps out of Praiano. I've never climbed so many bloody steps than that day.
Capri (pronounced CA-pri) brings to mind movie stars, jet setters, and risque behaviour. This isn’t something recent. The island’s louche reputation goes back to the time of Emperor Tiberius in 27 AD who is said to have thrown tiresome ex-lovers off the island’s steep cliffs.
The list of notable thrill-seekers who’ve been drawn to Capri is very long, including the Marquis de Sade, Oscar Wilde, and D.H.Lawrence.
Capri was also held to be home to the Sirens, whose song lured men to their doom, though other cities, even Sorrento, make the same claim.
We, too, can not resist the Sirens' song so we catch a ferry to Capri, which is a half-hour from Sorrento.
Capri is an intriguing island even viewed from afar. It rises almost vertically from the Mediterranean, a mix of rocky cliffs splashed with lush greenery.
The Caremar ferry (27€ return) makes me really appreciate BC ferries. This Italian ferry is a mess: rusty, dishevelled, almost scary in its apparent lack of maintenance. For the same price BC Ferries delivers an impeccable service.
The ferry delivers us to the port of Capri town from where we catch the funicular (1.8€) to the town proper.
Capri town is very pretty with car-free walkways and whitewash buildings beautifully appointed with greenery and flowers. Bougainvillea, lantana, and cyclamen are just a few of the plants flowering, and it's only November.
Of course, this being a playground for the rich and famous, Capri is well-stocked with spendy stores, restaurants, and hotels.
But I digress. On arrival in Capri town we take a small bus (1.8€) up a windy cliffside road to Anacapri, another pretty town that looks a lot like its lower-altitude and similarly-named twin. From here we hike to the highest point on the island, Monte Solaro (589m). The views from the peak are well worth the trek even though some clouds are moving in.
We hike back down to Anacapri where we visit Giardini di Augusto, founded by the Emperor Augustus. The garden’s high point is the view of the Isole Faraglioni, three limestone pinnacles that rise vertically from the sea, as well as a wall of rocky cliffs that rise up above.
From Anacapri we head back to Capri town to catch the ferry to Sorrento.
For such a small island there is lots to see, much more than we had time to do in one day. I’ll definitely keep Capri in mind for a return visit.
The pictures are all from Capri.
If you are finding this site slow to load please come back in a day or so by which time I'll have the problem fixed. At the same time I'll add a few more images. And please excuse all my typos. While the iphone 6 is wonderful, I find writing and editing challenging on such a small device. Of course when you think about it, it is amazing technology, eh?
And now back to Italy.
In 1709, a hundred years after the discovery of Pompeii, a well digger encountered a buried structure in an area just south of Naples. This was later revealed to be part of a town. That town, Herculaneum, turned out to be smaller and more well-to-do than Pompeii. While not as extensive, the ruins of Herculaneum are better preserved because they were buried by volcanic mud which hardened into rock. Even some wooden structures were preserved.
Not ones to pass up a chance to see some more ruins, we take the Circumvesuviana train to Ercolano then walk about 500m west to the ruins of Herculaneum. Unlike Pompeii, which is at grade level, Herculaneum is below grade so as we approach the ruins we look down to see a surprisingly complete looking city in a hole, surrounded by the nondescript buildings that make up much of the Naples ' suburbs.
We quickly find Herculaneum to contain a more interesting ruins experience than Pompeii. The buildings are more complete, some even have intact ceilings and wooden doors. The most interesting are the colorful walls, colorful columns, and wide variety of mosaics on the floor. We spend a few hours and are able to cover the whole town.
I'll add more text to this entry, and more pictures, but i must stop for tonight. If all goes well tomorrow we'll be in Taormina.
Today we jump on the Circumvesuviana train to go to Naples. After the hour train ride from Sorrento we wander Naples’ centro storico and port, stopping at the Duomo (closed), the Castel Nuovo (closed), and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (partially closed). I know, I should have planned better.
The museum’s Greek and Roman sculptures are wonderful and worth the admission. On the other hand, presentation is uninspired; like Pompeii the signage is nonexistent; the building is threadbare; and the gallery closures are due not to remodelling but a lack of staff.
Naples is an old city and it looks it. The architecture has lots of detail, color and variety and the historical centre is scaled for people, not cars, which gives it an intimate feel.
Problem is, Naples has a lot of people, cars, and mopeds, and they all share the barely one-car-wide streets. I'm not exaggerating: Naples’ streets are so narrow that many apartments never see sunlight. As a result, walking and driving look to be carefully choreographed experiences.
Naples does not draw a lot of tourists. It has a reputation for having organized crime and a lot of trash. One brief visit doesn't allow me to say anything about crime but I can say that Naples doesn't appear any dirtier than other big cities I’ve visited. The Cicumvesuviana train has a reputation for pick-pockets but the only nefarious activity I observed is a fellow tagging a window and some noisy drunk kids.
What will stick in my mind are the dark, narrow streets with laundry lines strung between buildings; the passionate locals socializing on the streets and piazzas; and the sight of men (and women) walking down the street, arm in arm, talking.
It is 7am and we have to catch a train from Naples to Taormina. While I look forward to seeing Sicily it is somewhat unfortunate because we miss the 8am breakfast at Marina Piccola 73 and the breakfast is very good. Every morning they feature a different delicious tart in addition to meats, cheese, breads, cereal, cake, and cappucinos. I’m on holiday so i eat lots of dessert.
If you’ve read previous posts you know the Circumvesuviana train connects Sorrento to Naples (also Pompeii and Herculaneum) so once again we are on the local train to the city.
Once at Naples’ Garibaldi station we find all the trains from Rome are late so our 9:50 becomes a 10:50. Breakfast is at a stand-up cafe at the station.
The Trenitalia train is clean and comfortable which is not what i’d expected from online comments. No food is available though so we bring snacks for the ride. As we wait for the train to pull out of the station a woman stands in the aisle talking very loudly to anyone who will listen. Passengers hand her food which buys her silence and then she exits, all of which brings to mind a similar experience on the Buenos Aires metro.
The train heads inland, east from Naples, then south along the rocky coast. For the rest of the trip the scenery alternates between tunnels, beautiful coastline, and towns of nondescript apartment blocks.
The train is full. Passengers are quiet: they read, sleep, and listen to their phones.
In between looking out the window and following the train’s progress on the map app on my iphone (citymaps2go which i highly recommend) I start Camus’ The Plague. The story is set in a nondescript French town populated by nondescript business people. As the story begins the town’s rats all die, then people start to succumb to what appears to be the plague. For some reason Camus’ story fits my mood.
That’s as far as i got in The Plague. I stopped reading because i was curious about the ferry crossing to Messina. You see, you don’t have to get off the train to cross the strait, yet there is no bridge.
At the port in Villa San Giovanni, a town at the tip of the toe, the train, minus the engine, rolls onto the ferry which then takes it on the twenty minute ride to Messina. Train passengers are free to disembark the train to wander the ferry.
We walked out on the ferry deck during the short ride. We could walk wherever we wanted to on the ferry - the captain’s door was even open though we figured we’d not bother him.
In this the Italians are less nanny-state than north americans. For example, BC Ferries loads passengers, bikes, and cars separately whereas with the ferry to Capri everyone poured on simultaneously, cars and foot traffic intermixed , the vehicles weaving around the people. And there are no railings along the dock, either. One of the benefits of travel is seeing how others do things.
Once the ferry arrives in Messina the train cars are pulled off and half head west to Palermo, the other half head south to Siracusa. Our car goes south.
After another hour or so we get off at Taormina-Giardini and grab a taxi to our hotel. Tomorrow we’ll explore Taormina.
The picture is of the train in the hold of the ferry.
We're in Taormina, our first stop in Sicily. The skies promise off-and-on rain so we'll explore the town today and hike tomorrow.
We are staying at Isoco Guest House, a b&b with 5 rooms, each with it's own theme (Keith Haring, Herb Ritts, Botticelli, ...). Paul and I are the last guests of the season. After we check out they will close for the season. Winter in Sicily is balmy compared to Canada, of course, but most tourists would rather be on the island in the sweltering summer. I've read that in summer the streets are packed with tourists but this time of year Taormina is wonderfully free of crowds.
Taormina is a small (11k population), well-preserved medieval town perched on the side of Monte Tauro. It has long been a popular tourist destination, attracting a similar clientèle, and acquiring a similar reputation, to Capri.
Taormina's setting is spectacular. At about 300m elevation it offers expansive views of the east coast of Sicily, the Ionian sea, and Europe's largest volcano, Mount Etna.
On top of the beautiful setting Taormina itself is a feast for the eyes. Taormina features remnants of an old town wall, charming streets, intimate piazze, warm pastel-colored buildings, and balconies overflowing with flowers. Like most old Italian cities, street widths vary from barely two cars wide to maybe a meter wide. This is Italian eye candy.
Taormino is famous for its huge amphitheater, the Teatro Greco, which was built in the 3rd century BC and is still in use today.
After breakfast we walk a short distance down via Cappuccini, pass under one of the old city wall's arches, then down the main street, Corso Umberto.
Corso Umberto is chock-a-block shopping and most is very high end. I find myself admiring an olive trench coat in one window but the 900€ tag gives me pause so I pass it by.
We walk Corso Umberto from one end of the town to the other, stopping in old churches and artsy stores and a pastry shop for cannoli and gelati. Delicious. We return to our b&b to rest up from our strenuous day then head out for dinner. All is good in Taormina.
The photo was taken from our room's balcony.
After breakfast on this beautiful warm November day we hike up to the picturesque hilltop town of Castelmola (530m). The hike involves many, many stairs. (We are starting to notice a pattern: almost everywhere we want to go in southern Italy involves stairs.)
In the center of this very small town is a castle or rather the remnants of a castle. Not much left of the structure but the views of the sea, the snow-covered mount Etna, and the terraced hillsides make the hike worthwhile. And everywhere bougainvillea and lantana are in bloom. Lots of cactus, too.
Castelmola is a more substantial town than expected. The town's sights include a church that is part cave and a bar with a phallic theme. In a small shop we buy a couple of colorful ceramics to hang on our walls. The ceramics are non-phallic I might add.
Next we hike back down to Taormina to check out Teatro Greco, Taorimina's famous Greek/Roman amphitheater. It is carved into a hillside and features great views. Of course most places in Taormina have great views.
From the Teatro Greco we hike down to the beach at Mazzaro and then walk the rocky beach to Isola Bella, a small island just offshore. The Mediterranean water is crystal clear and a number of people are swimming. We didn't expect such nice conditions in November so did not pack swim suits.
Our hike is still not over. We climb the stairs back up to Taormina, walk through a beautiful public garden brimming with flowers, then snack on pizza and arancini at Da Cristina, a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop that usually features a line of customers. We ate there yesterday and found it good and cheap. Today i noticed, posted on their wall, a page from the NY Times of 4/28/2013 recommending Da Cristina.
Finally, we stop in a small store to purchase a couple of pieces of art that we'd admired the day before. Now we just have to figure how to fit our purchases into our bags.
Taormina has been a pleasure. Lots to see in such a small place, great views from almost every corner, pretty architecture, and plenty of restaurants and hotels .
One pattern we are picking up on in this trip is a lack of cuisine diversity. Not that we don't love Italian food but if you want something else the pickings are slim.
Tomorrow we head south to Siracusa.
The first picture is of Teatro Greco, the second is of Mount Etna as seen from Castelmola.
We walk off-island tonight to eat a 18€ prix fixe meal at a small restaurant owned by butcher Ciccio and his friend Mauro. When we arrive at 8pm the place is empty. Since everything in Italy is closed from 1 to 4ish in the afternoon i guess 8 is early for dinner.
The waiter brings two hard-boiled eggs. Paul and I look at the eggs and the small bowl of salt and wonder why we have eggs. The waiter comes back to our table to indicate that we are to eat the eggs now. He does not speak English. We eat our eggs.
Next comes a large plate of antipasti, a bowl of beans, and a bowl with a soft cheese. Then bread, wine, and tripe. Then a selection of grilled meats: chicken, steak, sausage, bacon, and horse. Despite the amount - twice the food we need - we eat everything but the tripe. It is all very good, all except the tripe that is.
By 9 pm customers are waiting for tables and I feel like I'm in the middle of a Godfather movie. And I mean that in a good way. Everyone is well dressed, made up, talking Italian, and they all know each other. As customers come in to the restaurant they say ciao and talk and do the double kisses with those already seated. Paul and I are the only non-Sicilians in the place.
Let me back up a bit. We are in Siracusa, about two hours south of Taormina, on the southeast tip of Sicily. We are here because Siracusa is very old, a town with enough history for a hundred other towns.
We are staying at hotel Gargallo, a small place in the middle of the island of Ortigia. Ortigia's streets are narrow, crooked, and disorienting; it brings to mind Venice without the canals. The architecture is stunning. One old stone building after another, with beautiful details and crumbly textures that come alive at night.
The pictures accompanying this post are of a beautiful old church a few doors from our hotel, a courtyard also near our hotel, and, best of all, the magnificent Piazza del Duomo, about a block from the hotel. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to old churches but I found the interior of this Duomo among the most fascinating. You can see the evidence of its being built and re-built. A beautiful building inside and out.
Ciao for now.
Perfect weather today. After breakfast we walk to the southern tip of Ortigia to see Castello Maniace, a defense built in 1239 but named after a Byzantine admiral who conquered Siracusa in 1038. Part of the complex is used by the local university, the rest is available to the public.
It is an impressive fortification with thick walls, large vaulted chambers, and the remnants of a moat separating it from the rest of Ortigia.
Like many sites only some areas are open because of ongoing reconstruction.
Lunch is in Piazza Archimede, named after Archimedes. Pizza topped with sliced potatos followed by way too many desserts. The piazza features a large fountain depicting the nymph Arethusa, the symbol of Ortigia.
The photos are of the Castello, the clear water surrounding Ortigia, another of the Castello, and the Duomo.
About all I pack for travel is a few changes of clothes, something to read, something to write with, and a camera. A coat if it's cold. Toothbrush and deodorant.
My travel clothes are all green and blue polypro. Everything matches. I’ve long thought life would be better if we wore uniforms, as the Chinese supposedly did during the cultural revolution. Olive green Mao jackets and matching pants. No decisions, just take out the next clean pair. Like Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriend Christie who always wears the same black and white dress. I get her.
I take something to write with and a camera because my memory sucks. Maybe I'm mentally lazy, maybe I'm defective, maybe I had too much fun in grad school. In any case i find writing things down and taking pictures helps me remember. That is why I write this blog.
But back to Italy. Next on our short list of things we think we should see while in Siracusa is the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis. This is about a half-hour walk once you cross the bridge that takes you off Ortigia , so maybe 45 minutes from the hotel. Not the most interesting walk but not scary or anything, just city streets in a nondescript part of Siracusa.
This archaeological site features an arena built for circus games and where the sick drank the blood and ate the livers of the dead; a 200m long altar built to honor Timoleon that did double duty for animal sacrifices; a large amphitheate, the Teatro Greco; and a rock quarry complete with a huge ear-shaped cavern. The quarry served as prison for 7000 Athenian prisoners of war.
It all sounds worth seeing but I find it more interesting to read about in the Rough Guide than to actually walk among the ruins. Part of the problem is the site’s lack of signage and part is its appearance of neglect. For 10€ the site should be better maintained.
And that's ok, travel is a mix of good and disappointing. Everything can't live up to expectations which is why I try to dampen my expectations.
Two photos today: the Teatro Greco at the Parco Archeologico and a typical Ortigia street at night.
Another beautiful and warm day in Siracusa. We visit the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia which fronts the same beautiful square as the Duomo. The original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 then rebuilt and reopened in 1703. The 1693 earthquake comes up a lot when reading the history of southeastern Sicily.
Beautiful inside and out, the church’s highlights are a large work by Caravaggio - the Burial of Santa Lucia - as well as murals and old crucifixes.
We buy a small watercolor on papyrus on our way to the Fonte Aretusa, a freshwater spring just meters from the Mediterranean.
The Fonte Aretusa fronts a path along the west side of the island, one of the places you can participate in the traditional passeggiata or evening promenade. The promenade generally takes place between 5 and 8pm in every Italian town. Couples and families walk and greet friends and neighbors. Stores are open should you want to shop (remember, they are closed from about 1 to 4) but most people just walk. On weekends the numbers are huge; it appears everyone in town is out and about.
After dinner we sit in Piazza Duomo. The temperature is perfect and the piazza is almost empty aside from a few bicyclists , pedestrians, and cats. Sicily has a lot of cats.
The piazza is one of the most beautiful urban spaces i've seen. It is intimate in size and surrounded by buildings that are works of art.
Tonight's photos are of Fonte Aretusa, Santa Lucia alla Badia, and the duomo.
We say goodbye to Siracusa and Hotel Gargallo. The Gargallo is a fine little family run hotel. Mom prepares breakfast and cleans, the front desk is staffed by one of the kids, and everyone is friendly. Weaknesses are the too-hard bed, crummy pillows, and the all-too-common leaky corner shower. If you've used one you know what I mean, there is no way to shower without water going on the floor.
We walk a half hour to the Siracusa train station which is next to the bus station. Our choices are the 10:10 Trenitalia or the 12-something bus. Most take the bus but we take the train. The two tickets are a cheap 15€.
The train is sad-looking, worn and of course tagged with graffiti, but the seats are new and it’s not packed with passengers. It’s an odd looking train as it has two passenger cars and no engine car. The engine is underneath somewhere. What is really odd is that we feel the transmission shift as the engineer moves through the gears to get up to speed. I pull down the window to enjoy the breeze - the temperature is great - and snap a few pictures of the country going by.
After a couple of hours riding through gently rolling agricultural land and making a half-dozen stops we arrive in Ragusa.
We step off the train and are immediately approached by a small man in a sports jacket. He speaks nothing but rapid-fire Italian. I figure he's a taxi driver looking for a fare. I smile, say no, and start to move on.
Turns out it is Angelo, the owner of the b&b. He grabs one of our bags and leads us to his Citroen.
He doesn’t stop talking - in, of course, Italian - for the next 45 minutes as he drives the short distance to the b&b; explains the three door keys; demonstrates the espresso machine (pointing to his stomach with disapproval when i tell him Paul drinks Coke); gives us a tour of the b&b; maps out a walking tour of Ragusa; tells us where to go for dinner and what to order; takes our breakfast order (croissant with chocolate or riccotta); and copies our passport details into a notebook. Whew. That's a lot of Italian.
We spend the rest of the afternoon walking the old town. The old town is called Ragusa Ibla as opposed to the newer part of town which is called Ragusa superior.
We also check out the churches. Italy has a church on almost every corner. The churches in Ragusa are very beautiful so we've a pleasant time spent marvelling at the architecture and interior adornments.
The pictures are of Ragusa Ibla.
It's another beautiful blue-sky day in Sicily. I down an espresso and take the stairs up to the rooftop patio. Angelo greets us. Angelo is a small, trim man, maybe 65, who dresses neatly like most Italians past 40.
We are the only guests in the b&b yet Angelo has set out enough food for ten. Breakfast at the b&b i soon discover is like eating with a dad who hovers over you, correcting your meal habits all while saying eat, eat.
Angelo has laid out our croissants (chocolate, or is it nutella? for me, ricotta for Paul) but stops us as we start to eat. No, we must start with the bread, cheese, and tapenade course. Next, Angelo stops us when we use the same plate. Courses cannot share plates. I feel like a Neanderthal.
I put a few baked apples slices on my plate. Angelo stops me. He wants me to use a bowl and then he adds more Apple slices to my bowl because i haven't taken enough. They are delicious so i do not mind.
As we eat, Angelo occasionally goes to another table and smokes. Everyone in Italy smokes. They are worse than Canadians.
Finally, my non-dessert courses are done and I dig into my chocolate-filled croissant. It is good but i am stuffed. If Angelo weren’t watching i’d skip the first two courses and just eat the croissant but i can’t so i don’t. When all is done i want to say thanks dad.
Breakfast over, we head out to hike the Cava della Misericordia. The hike begins in Piazza della Republica so we take the stairs down to Ragusa Ibla, the old town, then we walk down another set of stairs to the trailhead.
We soon hit a river crossing too deep to attempt. So we walk the stairs back up to town and then down again, an alternative approach indicated by the openstreetmaps phone app. Success. This route has a bridge.
We spend the rest of the day hiking through a forested canyon surrounded by rocky outcroppings, then we circle back via a road which cuts through farms and cow pastures which are separated from each other and from the road by stone walls. The rocks, the olive trees, the stone paths, and the clear dry climate is how I imagined Sicily, and here I am, on this beautiful day, walking with Paul on this island in the Mediterranean so far from home. I am very fortunate.
We return to Ragusa mid-afternoon. After a snack at a patisserie (espresso, arancini, lemon cake that looks like art, and a whipped cream and berry pastry) we stop to trade travel tips with a young German couple we saw on the train, then we return to the b&b to shower, rest, and plan our dinner. Some days i think that life is composed of meals broken up by short periods of non-meals.
The photos are of the b&b's rooftop patio followed by shots from today's hike.
I haven't mentioned why we are in Italy. Tomorrow, November 22, I am 60, so we are here to celebrate. I cannot understand how i've arrived at 60. Well I understand how i've arrived at 60 i just do not understand where the time went. If you are my age or thereabout you understand but if you are young you do not. The point is, we are travelling to celebrate that i've lived to a ridiculous old age.
But back to Italy.
After another delicious breakfast with Angelo where i bravely skip one entree so as to make room for dessert. We then walk to the station to catch the bus to Modica.
It's about a 20 minute ride. Modica is a little smaller than Ragusa but otherwise it is not much different than Ragusa. Hills, stairs, old churches, narrow windy streets, and little cars that somehow squeeze through. In other words, Modica is fine but if you are in Ragusa you needn't bother even though the guidebooks say it is worth the trip.
A funeral mass is taking place in Modica's butterscotch-colored church so we sit and listen for awhile. That could soon be me, dead in a box. Well maybe not with all the Catholic bits.
Modica's fame is chocolate so we stop at a couple of chocolate shops where we sample and buy. The chocolate is dark - no milk chocolate here - and has a curious grainy texture.
We walk back to the bus stop for the return. We’ve three bus schedules to consult - one from the Ragusa tourist office and two posted in Modica - and each has a different time for the return bus to Ragusa. The 3:10 never appears, nor the 3:30 so we end up waiting for the 5pm.
We walk down the many flights of stone stairs to Ragusa Ibla for dinner and find Ibla almost empty. It is post apocalyptic in its emptiness. The upside is there are no tourists. The downside is that many restaurants are closed. If you come off season expect to hunt for a restaurant. Paul makes a list of restaurants from trip advisor and we then hunt for those that are open. This isn't to say we totally trust trip advisor but it is a place to start. Fortunately we find one open, Quattro Gatti, and dinner is very good. We drink a lot of wine and then walk back to the b&b.
Tomorrow we head for our final stop in Sicily, Palermo.
The pictures are of Modica.
A whiney post today, sorry. I expect to be in a better frame tomorrow.
After breakfast we walk to the bus station where I start to feel sick. Bad tap water, too much red wine, too many rich foods, maybe some combination of causes. It doesn't help that the Ragusa bus station is a parking lot and waiting at the station involves standing in the parking lot inhaling a mix of diesel fumes and cigarettes. As mentioned previously, it feels like everyone in Italy smokes - though maybe i should qualify this and say southern Italy - and since indoor smoking is prohibited (yay) when outdoors you are continually surrounded by smokers chain smoking. The diesel plus cigarettes combine with my shaky digestive tract to make me feel nauseous.
I don't want to be sick on the bus - it is a long ride with no toilet - so I decide we should stay another day in Ragusa. But I learn to regret this decision since tomorrow is Sunday and transport options are limited.
The same thing occurred last winter - one of us sick on a day of a long bus ride - but we were able to fly at the last minute. But Ragusa isn't Buenos Aires; we've few options and none include an airplane.
We head to the train station but it is closed. They've a sparse schedule on work days. Sundays just won't work.
The bus is our only option but we spend what seems like hours trying to decipher the Sunday (Festivi) bus schedule. The printout is surprisingly complex and it doesn't help that it is in Italian.
We ask the fellow at the hotel's front desk for help as he speaks English - we didn't return to the b&b because of communication issues - but we don't trust his interpretation of the schedule. That he says the bus to Palermo goes via Modica after Ragusa makes no sense as it is the wrong direction. And he wouldn't go online to confirm. Jerk.
And we can't get our phones to connect to the AST bus website. So tomorrow morning we'll walk to the bus station to see if we can get an answer.
Yes, I know, too much complaining.
Much of today is spent on the bus to Palermo (13.5€), time spent binge listening Serial podcasts and watching the agricultural scenery go by.
Serial makes me think about the challenge of creating a just judicial system. For example, in one episode the judge instructs the jury to disregard the defendant’s refusal to testify. But in the podcast this is followed by a statement from a juror who clearly did not do as instructed. The juror states that Adnan’s failure to testify made her think he was guilty. I don’t blame the juror. When i watch tv court dramas (I really enjoy the Good Wife) the same thought hits me when a judge tells a jury to "disregard that last statement". Just how does one un-hear something? This is a pretty serious weakness in the jury system.
Anyway, I digress. Back to Italy.
We are in Palermo. Our b&b is only steps from Via Maqueda and the Piazza Verdi, home of the Massimo Theatre, Italy’s biggest opera house (see photo).
Shortly after arrival we head out for dinner and find Via Maqueda vehicle free and filled with people young and old promenading through the old town. The city has a lively and festive atmosphere. We look forward to our last days in Sicily exploring Palermo after which we will catch an overnight ferry to Naples to begin the journey home to Canada.
We spend the day exploring medieval Palermo which is just outside the door of our b&b.
We start at Quattro Canti (four corners) which divides the old town into four quadrants. At one time inhabitants of the quarters had their own dialects, trades, palaces, and markets, and intermarriage was discouraged.
Quattro Canti isn't a piazza, which is what i expected, it is the intersection of two major streets, Via Maqueda and Corso Emanuele.
Mind you, a major street in old Palermo is barely wide enough for 2 cars plus sidewalks. As in many Italian cities, the typical Palermo street is barely wide enough for a Fiat and you often find yourself flat against the building to let cars pass. This isn't as bad as it may sound. While aggressive, drivers here don't want to hit you.
At each corner of the Quattro Canti is a tall concave wall with several tiers of statues. In years past this was where the heads of convicted rebels were displayed.
Immediately adjacent are Piazza Pretoria and a church. This being Italy, there are actually four churches facing the Piazza but only one caught my interest, San Giuseppe dei Teatini.
San Giuseppe's misleadingly simple exterior conceals a breathtaking interior. Ceiling to floor, front to back to side, it is covered in different shades of marble and tile and paint, all worked into beautifully detailed representations of religious themes. It's almost enough to inspire me to join the Catholic church, which I think may have been the point. I imagine this space had a magical impact on the minds of the residents of seventeenth-century Sicily, residents who likely lived in a style that differed vastly from that represented by this gorgeous spectacle.
Next to the church is Piazza Pretoria, and at its center is a fountain surrounded by many many statues of naked nymphs, in other words, naked men and women. The flagrant nudity on display so offended neighboring churchgoers that they called it the Fountain of Shame. Given that the fountain predates the church i wonder why the church was built next door but I've no answer to that question.
From Quattro Canti we walk to the Cattedrale (7€) where we climb to the roof for a view out over the city. Afterwards we climb down below the Cattedrale to check out the (not interesting) treasury and the (sort of interesting) crypt. Unlike San Giuseppe, only the exterior if the Cattedrale is worth looking at.
We spend the rest of the day walking the old town's narrow streets, shopping, stepping into the churches that are open, and eating: ice cream, pastry, pizza, espresso, and arancini.
Today's photos are of San Giuseppe, the roof of the Cattedrale, the Fountain of Shame, and Quattro Canti.
Our plan this morning is to take the bus to Monreale, a town about 15km from Palermo. The Monreale Cathedral is acclaimed as a stunning fusion of Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman craftsmanship.
We wait over an hour at Piazza Indipendenza for bus 389 which is said to run every half hour. The bus finally arrives and a crush of people approach the door. We push our way in but the bus passengers already inside refuse to move to the back where there is free space. I am jammed in, I feel someone grab my shoulder bag, I cannot move, and I think this is no fun.
My claustrophobia kicks in so I call out to Paul, who is a little further in, "I'm outa here!" I push my way out of the bus to the street. Paul follows. What a relief! Seeing yet another church wasn't worth the aggravation.
The bus stop just happens to be in front of the entrance to the Palazzo dei Normanni which was the residence of the king during the Norman occupation. Today it houses the Regional Parliament of Sicily, which some claim is the world's first modern parliament.
The Palazzo was built in the ninth century though like many of the local buildings it has been enlarged and modified repeatedly as different groups came and conquered. Because of this pattern of being overrun by different groups over thousands of years, Palermo's architecture exhibits a diversity of styles which to my eye blend well.
The highlight of the Palazzo is said to be the Cappella Palatina, the private chapel of Roger II, and it is open to the public today (7€) so we decide to visit.
We sit in front of the entrance to read about the Cappella Palatina. As we sit, a large group of young people who are gathered in a nearby park start marching towards us and i watch as the guard starts to pull the gate to the Palazzo closed.
The guard lets us in then shuts the gate just before the marchers converge on us. I hear the same chant that i heard in Salta last February, "the people, united, cannot be defeated" though in Italian, not Spanish, and of course they could be saying something completely different. If you've done a few demonstrations, anti-war, act-up, etc., you know it. Maybe the protest is related to the socialist posters that are plastered on walls in town.
The Palazzo is beautiful and the chapel is stunning, completely covered in mosaics depicting stories from, you guessed it, the bible. Also nice is that the chapel is empty except for one other couple.
November has proven to be an excellent month for visiting Italy: no crowds plus comfortable weather. Paul and I are once again the only people in our B&b. Taormina, Ragusa, Siracusa, and now Palermo, in the first two we were the only guests, in the last two we were the only guests at check out. Only Sorrento was full. Actually i think a few more guests would be nice as trading travel ideas with others can be useful.
From the Palazzo we walk over to check out the Ballaro market which is spread over maybe ten blocks of Dickensian streets. Dark and dirty looking like much of old Palermo, the Ballaro market consists of block after block of market stalls selling fresh vegetables, cheese, smartphone covers, clothing, every size of fish, long silver eels, underwear, octopus, entrails, cow heads, it just goes on and on. The worn cobblestones are slippery wet in places from the market guys washing away fish bits, and the passages are barely two people wide. Annoyingly, there are the ubiquitous motor scooters squeezing through. Reminds me of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar though the Bazaar lacked scooters.
For dinner we go to il culinario, a neighborhood restaurant, for a wonderful meal. Silvio, the owner, explains each course with Sicilian pride and passion and brings extras such as an additional appetizer and an after dinner sweet wine. The large group dining at the next table exhibits the unreserved passion and physical expression i've come to enjoy observing while in Italy. So different from my family.
Tomorrow night we are on an overnight ferry to Naples and may not have wifi so the next update may be from Frankfurt.
Photos are of Chiese Capitolare di San Cataldo (a 12th century Arab-Norman church), the main shopping street via Maqueda, a poster take off of Breaking Bad, and a ceremony we encountered and evesdropped on after dinner.
I wasn't expecting much for our last day in Sicily. Check out of the b&b then hang out with luggage until time to board the 20:00 ferry for Naples.
But no, the Palermitani (residents of Palermo) are looking out for us. Marco at the b&b offers us to keep our room for the day at no charge. A real friendly guy and a nice place to stay.
We find a ceramic shop with colourful Picasso-inspired designs. The question is, do we want to carry one more breakable on the plane home? Of course!
We walk to the Kalsa neighborhood, which is seaside, and along the way we pass a school overflowing with students. Late teens, maybe a bit older. Palermo is full of young people, i think they've some universities here, which adds good energy to the city. Anyway, the kids call out to me, they see my camera, they want me to take their pictures. They pose and i shoot and we all have fun. Nice kids.
We wander into Santa Maria dello Spasimo, or Lo Spasimo, a church in the Kalsa neighborhood. The church was never completed because of the rising Turkish threat in 1535, where resources meant for the church were diverted to fortifications of the city against any possible incursions.
Once inside a woman walks over to tell us the history of the building and about how it's now used for jazz concerts. Then another lady flags us down to show us a cupola that she thinks we'll find interesting.
By now we are hungry, but it us 14:00 and not much is open. We just happen to walk past il Culinario, where we ate last night. It is closed, they only serve dinner. Suddenly Silvio, the owner, walks out and calls to us. He seats us, brings some of his delicious chickpea and crostini appetizers, then gets us two pizzas. He hangs around and talks about his travels in his broken English. When we're done he serves us a small dessert and a small glass of his homemade lemon liquor.
Palermo has made a very positive impression on me. It's Italy turned up a notch, proud and passionate survivors of thousands of years of battles, from the Romans, Burbons, Arabs, the inquisition, etc., up to the more recent fascists and the mafia. A fine place to visit indeed.
The photos are of Lo Spasimo and a group of students posing for me outside their school.
You'll notice I'm posting less. Home doesn't provide the same material as travel. I didn't eat a rich breakfast on a rooftop patio served by a little old Italian man who speaks no English and expects me to have manners I wasn't brought up with. No meaty dinners with the Sopranos. No standing in a parking lot inhaling cigarettes and diesel while waiting for the bus to Palermo.
It is still cold outside, still some snow on the ground, so I'm inside at my computer writing and organizing photos. I'm off chocolate-filled croissants and back to granola and skim milk and making my own lattes, which isn't bad as I can have one any time - in Italy one only drinks espresso after breakfast.
I'm pondering the thoughts expressed in an article by Oliver Emberton that can be easily summarized as:
- Life is a competition for everything.
- How many people you impact is the measure of success.
- We tend to define fairness as synonymous with our self interest.
I think what he says would make a three bumper sticker statement of economic philosophy. His points are true but for some reason they leave me a bit cold.
I'm listening to "I don't give a damn blues" by Sean Jones Quartet.
The photos are of the Path of the Gods, which parallels the Amalfi coast. The first one, the water fountain, isn't much to look at but when I saw it I felt such relief. I knew we were on the the path and were through climbing the steps out of Praiano. I've never climbed so many bloody steps than that day. All shot with a 24-120 at about 24mm.
I've started to write a few pages on where we stayed and what we did while we were in southern Italy. To see them click the Travel Southern Italy menu item and move through the pages. They are a work in progress as are the pictures that will eventually accompany them.
Accompanying pictures are of Sorrento, Capri, and Naples.
Just listened to serial episode 10.
Prospective jurors who've had brush with the legal system are pulled and questioned. And by brush I mean everything from convict to victim to relative of convict or victim. One of the things they are looking for, says the voice over, is bias against cops, but there is no mention of bias in favor of cops.
Is Adnan guilty? If Sarah Koenig can't tell I certainly won't venture a guess. But the story provides a look inside the US legal system that reinforces the view that justice isn't truth, it's a roll of the dice.
Pictures are from the beautiful town of Taormina. #2 is a double rainbow from our room, #3 is on the way to Castelmola, and #4 is of Etna and, on the hilltop in the upper right corner, the town of Castelmola.
One of my post-travel tasks is to write reviews, usually to Trip Advisor. Then I put it off by telling myself the world's store of information doesn't need the additional bits it would take to store my reviews. Today I wrote two. Both are establishments in Palermo, Il Culinario with its imposing proprietor who appears twice in my blog, and Casa Galati, a near-perfect economy b&b.
And speaking of Italy (you are probably sick of it by now), in yesterday's nyt Taiye Selasi caught my eye by writing about Italy. She says the northern mountains in Italy are more like Germany, and the far south is, well, not like Germany. Since northern and southern Italians have little in common they might be better going it alone. I just wonder if this is true? I appreciate the desire to cement prejudice into law, I just don't want to live in a place where that becomes a reality.
I'm slowly processing photos which means i convert them to jpgs then make a small version for the web. I post all that i process. Today's photos are of Taormina, Mt Etna as seen from Castelmola, and Castelmola itself. Taormina and Castelmola are ridiculously charming.
At the moment the most important article of clothing on Vancouver Island is a good raincoat. It's not cold, just wet.
I've added a number of shots to the Herculaneum and Palermo photo galleries. A few are copied here: the first six are the ruins - I don't know why I'm surprised at the colors - and the rest are Palermo. The last is of a group of students who insisted on posing.
Palermo and Naples are similar.Block after block of narrow streets squeezing between old stone buildings. So much detail! And you often feel you've seen this before, because it fits some idealized or maybe television or movie sourced brain picture of how Italian cities are supposed to look. Despite their similarities Palermo seems more prosperous, youthful, and energetic.
I've just finished listening to an audio play. The first time I listened was yesterday, it's that good. The play is Lampedusa by Anders Lustgarten, available on the Guardian Books podcast, too.
The play has two characters, both memorable. One, Stefano, is a fisherman whose job is pulling the drowned bodies of migrants from the Mediterranean. He a Lampedusani, from the small Italian island about a hundred km north of Tunisia. The second character, Denise, is a door-to-door debt collector for a payday loan outfit. Shes a young Brit working with people who are not exactly at their best. Her typical client is sitting in front of a giant flat screen eating take out when she knocks on the door to collect on the loan that bought the flat screen. At home Denise struggles to help a mum who has just lost her disability and at work shes a target of complaints about immigration. Her description of her workday mixes humor and cynicism and, like the migrants Stefano encounters, she too wants to escape to a better place, though for her it is the US or Australia.
This is a wonderful piece of writing and acting. One of the more memorable messages was Stefano's comment that no matter what the Europeans do, or don't do, for the refugees, they'll keep coming, thanks to the horrors in Siria and Yemen and Eritrea and Libya and whatever.
The accompanying shot is Siracusa, on the island of Sicily, a couple hundred km northeast of Lampadeusa. Taken with an iPhone 6. The iPhone takes great shots, I just wish I didn't find it so ergonomically awkward. Of course now that I write that I think how spoiled I am. Anyway, why this shot is here is that the Sicilian town of Siricusa is near Catania, and Catania is where Italian rescuers often take migrants, Sicily being a much larger island than Lampedusa.
The song of the day is Don't Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult. A great driving song, it's the closing music for the last episode of season two, Orange is the New Black. In this episode of the prison drama/comedy, Rosa has just weeks to live before her cancer kills her. A fellow inmate hands her the keys to the prison van and so she escapes. As she drives we feel her rush of pleasure at her last taste of freedom. And as she drives she sees the evil Vee walking aside the road, another escapee, and Rosa aims the truck towards Vee, killing her, and commenting that she was not a nice person. Indeed. What a great show, almost makes me want to go to prison.
After many days of smoke-filled skies I figured it's time to see a clear sky, even if it's only a photo of a clear sky and it's on the other side of the world.
This is the Malatrá Valley, in Italy. In the upper left corner, the speck on the green hillside, is Rifugio Bonatti where we hiked in and spent a comfortable night. The eye watering view from Bonatti is of the Mount Blanc massif, on the right. The massif is not only beautiful to look at but you can go under it, by car, or over it, by cable. I highly recommend the latter. Both take you to the other side of the massif where you'll find charming Chamonix, in France.
I shot this from the Col de Ferret, on the trail that would take us to our next stop, Ferret, in Switzerland. It was my first trip with a digital camera.
While I captured the photo in 2004, today, in 2018, was the first I'd seen it, and that is because it's made of two photos and only today did I happen to see them back to back and notice their panorama potential. Wow, what a difference they make glued together.