Monday, December 26, 2011

Sicily: Taormina and Castelmola

For our last weekend in Sicily we stayed in what everyone told us was the most beautiful part of the island, Taormina, and we're so glad we did. At one point we could look out to the Ionian Sea, snow-capped Mt. Etna, rolling mountains, and old towns built into steep mountains. Minus the towns the whole scene was reminiscent of Jurassic Park!

On the hotel roof.
Jurassic Park-like mountains.
Mt. Etna

Since we went in the very off season we were able to stay at a very luxurious hotel! The rooms were decorated with Arabic patterns and colors and the view from our windows looked out to the endless sea and Mt. Etna.

View from our room.

We went to the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater), which is the site to see while in Taormina. It was built in 7th century B.C. and is the second largest in Sicily (with Siracusa's being first). It is the most celebrated ruins in Sicily not only because it is so well preserved, but because of the remarkable scene it looks out to.

Saturday was our wine tasting day and we hired Gaetano from a tour company to drive us to three different Etna wineries. These wineries had some amazing Sicilian wine grown with the soil from the volcanic site. Wine tasting is just a little different here than in the States. First, you sit down at a table while someone pours you tastings instead of standing at a bar area. Second, the tastings are not a little sip each. They fill your glass halfway with wine. Third, many places will leave the bottles on the table and tell you to take as much as you want. All of this rang true for when we went wine tasting in Tuscany too. So needless to say, we had a very good time with the wine (maybe too much??), although the following pictures were taken before we had even one sip of wine.

Don't press that!

Wine please!
Warning- the following pictures are not suitable for work! The next day we went to a town called Castelmola. This town is perched way above Taormina and consists of narrow, winding roads to get to the top. It has an old world charm to it with panoramic views of Taormina, the sea, and Mt. Etna. One of the biggest places to see in this town is Bar Turrisi. Tourists have named this bar "Dicks Bar", "Fertility Bar", or "The Penis Bar". The inside of the bar is decorated with... hmm, how do I say this? A lot of penises! They are present in different shapes, lengths, and materials like wood, ceramics, terracotta, worked iron, and pasta. There were penises everywhere... even the faucet in the bathroom was a long and curved penis with the knobs representing... well you get where I'm going with it. The reason behind this was that the penis is not a vulgar symbol and it represents fertility, freedom, fortune, life, and beauty. The bar has been passed down from three generations and the owners also used the penis to symbolize the happiness of their era. Everyone reading this knows that we behaved like the mature 31 year olds that we are ;)

The menu and our seats.
This was just sitting on the table.

The one on the right almost poked my eye out on the way upstairs.

Deep in thought.

Afterwards, we took a walk and climbed up to the Norman Castle where again we were met with spectacular views. This was a fantastic weekend in Sicily!

Winding roads to get up to Castelmola.
Passing Capri on the ferry on the way back to Naples from Sicily.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sicily: Agrigento & Siracusa

These past two weeks Jon had to do a rotation in Sigonella, Sicily since there is no permanent orthopedic surgeon there. We took an overnight ferry and had our own cabin, much like a cabin one would see on a cruise ship. It was a surprisingly comfortable trip and we both wound up getting a great nights sleep.

Our cabin.
Almost in Sicily. View from the cabin.

Right outside of the base were gorgeous views of Mt. Etna. Jon took these beautiful pictures:

Since Jon's schedule was pretty lax while being there we had plenty of time to explore. Our first stop was Agrigento. Agrigento sits on the southern side of Sicily, about 1.5-2 hours from where we were staying. It is best known for its ancient Greek ruins, and more specifically Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples). At this site, seven monumental temples were built around 500 B.C.

There were some pretty interesting statues around...

We also visited the museum which contains artifacts taken from the site.

The temples sit below the city of Agrigento, which looks out to the Medittaranean Sea. The city has small shops, a large cathedral, and small churches.

A few days later we visited the city of Siracusa. This is another city that is notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheaters, and architecture. Before going to the city center we went to the ancient buildings of the city. We saw the Greek theater, which was spectacular! They continue to use the theater to hold plays. We also saw the Roman amphitheater, which is considered the 5th most important Roman theater in Italy.
Greek theater

Greek theater.

Roman theater.
Roman theater.

While in the ancient "park" there were many caves and nature walks that we stumbled upon.

The city center of Siracusa has many churches, piazzas, and fountains scattered around the city. For lunch we had some Sicilian pizza, and we found that we very much prefer the pizza from Naples, the world's pizza capital.  It was still very good and we had it a few times while we were in Sicily, but nothing beats the pizza in Naples!

Piazza Duomo.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ravello, a hike, and a fantastic meal!

Dave and Carla found an amazing hotel for the four of us to stay in for a night on the Amalfi Coast in Ravello. Being that it was low season we were actually the only people staying in the hotel that night and it seemed we were the only non-locals in Ravello! Ravello sits above the coast boasting fantastic views of the small town Minori and the coast itself. Our balconies looked out to this beautiful scenery.

Sunrise the next morning.

Looking onto Dave & Carla's balcony from ours.

After checking in, we went to the Gardens of Villa Cimbroni. These gardens are considered among the most important examples of the English landscape and botany culture in the South of Europe. Numerous impressive decorative items (fountains, statues, small temples, pavilions) from all over the world were placed in the gardens. It is proclaimed by many to have the most beautiful view in the world and I think we all had to agree that it was quite spectacular!

The entrance.

View from the gardens.

The exit.

Since December is a very off season time we had a few bottles of wine at the hotel before heading off to dinner. We had dinner at a quaint, family owned trattoria where we learned that although mamma (the chef) can be a little pushy with recommendations, mamma does know best! It was a delicious meal with fantastic company. Another bottle and a few cigars after dinner left us feeling great about our getaway.

All other pictures from this night were not suitable to be publicly posted!

The next day we went on a "moderate" hike called Valle dei Ferriere. This hike takes you from the starting point in Pontone, up and through the mountains, down through the valley, and ending in the town of Amalfi. We were told it takes 1-2 hours, but our research afterwards indicates that it takes about five hours, which at the time we were not aware of. We hiked up, up, up the mountain... and then up some more. At points there would be a very high cliff on one side of us and the other side would have you plunge to your death if you fell. Every turn lead us in an upwards direction with steep climbs. We saw some amazing foliage throughout the mountains; a mix of reds, oranges, yellows, and greens, that we had not seen since being in Italy. Up we went, passing a man herding goats with bells on, passing colorful lizards scurrying away from us, passing small waterfalls. At points we could see Amalfi in the distance, with the bright blue sea behind it and we were excited to end our hike there.  Unfortunately, after two hours of hiking it started to pour, we were nowhere near Amalfi (we figured we were at about the halfway point), the direction we were headed continued upwards and not down, we were out of water and snacks, and it was going to get dark in two hours (and we didn't know how long the next part would take us). So we played it safe and turned around. Even though we didn't make it to our ultimate destination, the hike was beautiful, fulfilling, and well worth the rain, grumbling tummies, and numbing legs!

Picture perfect rock!

Amalfi is behind us.

Cold, wet, and tired!
Tired from the day we decided to stay in and make dinner. When we got home we went to our local fish guy and bought two octopi, two fish, and a bag of mussels (which he gave to us for free), along with eggplant and peppers from our vegetable stand. Dave took care of the octopi (I'm still not really sure what went in to that), Jon put his surgeon skills to use and cut and gutted the fish, and Carla and I scrubbed, debearded, and steamed the mussels. It was such a memorable night filled with laughter, love, and of course molto vino.