Tag Archives: italy

Sicily – Part two

The second part of our Sicily trip was a little more relaxed–at least until the volcano exploded.The previous post shows it on video.   From Syracusa to Taormina, the train ride was brief.  When we arrived at our hotel, high above the beaches we were surprised that our room didn’t have a sea view, since nearly everything faces the sea.  Then we realized that instead, we had a view of Mt. Etna.   Even better! http://www.continentaltaormina.com/uk/

There was an exquisite terrace and rear garden, with a gate leading to stairs that took us right to the Via Umberto, the main drag of Taormina.  It is an impossibly romantic city, something out of a fantasy.  We enjoyed a very fine dinner and as we were walking back, heard some great music drifting down from one of the steep side streets, then followed it.   A couple of cocktails and a beautiful setting, some nice people to chat with, good  music, what more could we want? How about an exploding volcano?  

We had already booked our bus trip to Mt. Etna the next day.   What we didn’t know yet, of course, was that it would erupt that very morning.   We could see the explosions all along the ride up, and when we stopped for a photo op, we were surprised that we could also HEAR them!    It sounded like an artillery range, and it was all very thrilling.   When we arrived at the 1900 meter station, we were told that the cable car to the crater could not run that day, of course, because of the explosions taking place.   But there was no problem hiking up the mountain.  So that’s what we did.

The hike was kind of steep and the terrain a little rough because it was so loose and slippery.  Ray described it as climbing a pile of cinders.  But we made it as high as 2400 meters, and were quite pleased with ourselves for our endurance and bravery!  Besides, we had to keep up the tradition of climbing something–a tower, an arena, a mountain—at least once each week.    It really wasn’t scary at all, and the locals are pretty blasé about the eruptions—it’s not all that uncommon.   Still, we felt so lucky to be able to see it happening.  Our dumb luck seems to be holding out.

Last stop in Sicily was Palermo.  We just had a day there before flying out to Barcelona.   The city itself was a bit of a shock to the system, noisy and crowded, even on a Sunday.  We knew that with limited time we should visit the Palazzo Dei Normanni and Cappella Palatina. It was worth the long walk through noisy streets, because the Chapel has some of the most beautiful Byzantine mosaics I have ever seen.   A really inspiring sight.

Now let’s talk about senior discounts.   In most of Europe, they offer discounts for “pensioners” –sometimes 60 and over, sometimes 65 and over.    But,  many places say that the discount is only for E.U. citizens.   In Sicily, we were incensed to read that the senior discount was for “EU citizens, Canadians, and Australians.”   It usually means a saving of 5 to 15 Euros per admission.   Why not US citizens, because they think we have too much money?   Haven’t they been reading the papers—don’t they know the US is broke and deeply in debt???   

So, occasionally Ray asks for the senior discount, and they refuse without proof of E.U. citizenship.  I told him to try saying he was Canadian or English.  (His Spanish and French would give him away.)    In Palermo, he tried this and received the 75 percent discount on his ticket.   We were satisfied, until we heard an American accent, standing just behind us on line, saying “I’m going to try saying that.”

Of course, Ray started up a conversation with him immediately, and asked, “Where are you from?”  Guess what the answer was?  “Great Barrington, Massachusetts.”     Two couples who lived about 5 minutes away from us, with some mutual friends.   We’ve even been to at least one party at the same time.   Why wouldn’t we go thousands of miles to meet new friends from the neighborhood?  

Check out the pics—especially the ones of the volcano, which I think are just beautiful.    Click on a thumbnail and then use the arrows to scroll through.

Magical days and nights in Venice

Venice on a budget is possible.  When we first started planning this trip, we made a wish list of places we’d like to stop.   Venice went onto the list almost as a joke—we were certain we couldn’t travel in the Veneto on our limited budget.  We scoured the internet but didn’t find anything with decent reviews that was well located.   Then we came across Al Campaniel –  A B&B for 70 Euros a night.  I was reluctant, but could not have been more delighted by this wonderful home. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187870-d563561-Reviews-Al_Campaniel-Venice_Veneto.html

Marco, the owner, made us feel as if we lived in Venice.  The room was lovely with a big queen-sized bed and private bath, a window opening onto a little garden area, and the location could not have been better—a one- minute walk from the San Toma vaporetto stop.   And the vaporetto pass saved us.   For about 12 Euros per day, a multi-day pass covers unlimited rides.  Since it was raining about half the time we were in Venice, we really took advantage of the ability to hop on and off to see the sights and cover territory without getting lost (and wet) on the narrow lanes.

We also saved on food costs by eating our main meal at lunchtime—which we’ve done as much as possible through most of this trip.    Then in the evenings we ate something light—a salad, or pizza, or in the case of Venice, a cichetti crawl.   As they do in Spain, many of the wine bars and shops put out lovely little snacks which you can buy for a small amount of money and enjoy with a glass of wine.  A couple of stops along the way home took care of the evening meal.    Then there are our picnics, of course.   With the incredible Rialto market within a short walk, we managed to pick up fruit, (fresh figs and dates!) wine, cheese, and bread along the way and had our “dinner” in our room one evening.   Marco even chilled the Prosecco for us and provided glasses on our last night—just ideal.

The Scuola San Rocco was a revelation.   If you are a Tintoretto fan, you will never see so many in one location—at least 50 scenes from the bible, a real labor of love by the Venetian artist.  The Frari church, right next door, was also pretty amazing.  And both of these sights were right near our B&B. Of course the Doge’s palace and St. Marks basilica were unbelievable, too.  And of course, we had another bell tower to climb.   But alas, this campanile had no stairs, only an elevator.   Maybe in the humid weather that was a blessing.     I posted a short video of the Vivaldi concert already—Impressioni Venezia is a very good chamber group, and the concert was a great way to spend an evening.   We would have loved to attend “Musica a Palazzo” where opera is performed in an actual Venetian palace, but their schedule and ours just didn’t work together. Not sure it was in the budget anyway, but a blowout from time to time for something really special is not out of the question. It was highly recommended by people we met.

The Rialto market was great fun for we two foodies–as you’ll gather by the disproportionate number of “food porn” shots included in this slide show.

There were no crowds in early October—we were really lucky to enjoy Venice in such a relaxed and stress-free way.  And as far as the talk that Venetians are unfriendly—we met more people here than any place we’ve visited.   While lunching near the Rialto bridge at Trattoria da Bepi, we got into a nice long talk about politics and food with Giorgio and Loris, the owner, and got lots of inside information about the city.Venice was the perfect romantic getaway – although at this point in our trip, getting away has already been accomplished.    Enjoy the photos.  Click on a thumbnail image and toggle through using the arrows.