11/6/08 & 11/7/08
When we got up this morning we went to the breakfast room here at the hotel, as it is included with the room. The restaurant overlooks the ocean and was beautiful. We had a full breakfast since we hadnít eaten dinner the night before. We had decided to drive out into the countryside and try to find some ancient Roman baths. The traffic was really bad through town but as soon as we got out of it the scenery changed to rolling hills with old farm houses, and Iím not talking hundred years old but centuries old. †††††Some were large and others were pretty small. We had some trouble finding road signs that matched the maps we had and the GPS was pretty useless out there. Iím glad we had it, but it wasnít always right. We kept seeing what looked like giant cactus plants with big red bulbs on them and later found out they are prickly pears and everyone here loves them and said they are sweet. And if you live in Sicily you will never have to go hungry because you can always eat the pears. When we finally got to our destination there was an old guy sitting in a chair that flagged us over. He started talking in Sicilian and of course we couldnít understand a thing he was saying. He then said speak Dutch? We said English? He started waving his hands and talking in Sicilian and between his gestures and the few English words he used we were told that the Baths were closed for a few days! He motioned for us to turn the car around and we figured out that he was telling us to go across the valley to the museum. †We made our way over there and then headed to another town, which led us right past this same old man again! Ha He stopped us again and told us to turn around, we showed him on the map where we wanted to go. The GPS had led us back to him. He motioned again with his body and arms this time and we left not sure where we were headed, but in route when we would see things, we could tell that is what he was saying so we kept on going and sure enough you donít have to speak the language to communicate! It started raining so we made our way back to Catania to our hotel and ate dinner here at the hotel. I think the jet lag had finally caught up with us and we called it a night early.
Tony and I decided today to go to Taormina and Mt. Etna and we wanted to get a guide to explain what all we were going to see so last night Tony called a company called Co. Ga. Sicily. Our guide was waiting on us in the lobby when we finished breakfast this morning. Her name was Alessia, and the best guide we have ever had!! We were so lucky to get her. She is a college student and has lived here all her life. She knew so much about everything and stopped at some fantastic places so we could get great pictures. She was so interesting and we went at a slow pace. We immediately felt like we were with an old friend. We were also glad to have a guide that smoked, and knew about how long we could go between smoke breaks! Ha
†After leaving the hotel with Alessia, we traveled along the ocean front road towards Taormina, and one of our first stops along the way was a small village Naxos where our guide pointed out three large volcanic rock formations just off the shore that the Greeks had named Cyclops going back to the time of Ulysses. The area was gorgeous, beautiful beaches and †quaint little fishing villages and volcanic rock bluffs. Alessia started pointing out a city on top of one of the highest bluffs as Taormina as our †next destination. †She started telling us the history of the town, it was first established by the Greeks, taken over by the Romans, then Arabs, then finally the Normans. The road from the coast to the city was almost straight up with hairpin curves and very steep. On one side tall rock bluffs the other side great ocean views. †At the top we parked in a large parking garage and took an elevator 7 floors up to the main street level of Taormina. The city had a large wall built all around with huge arched entrances on both ends. We went through the south gate known as the Catania gate, on the other end was the Messina gate. Along the narrow main street were many tourist shops and buildings and churches with architecture representing all the different inhabitants over the centuries. Most of the churches reflected the Norman style which was simple on the outside. Many different styles of arches from Roman to Arab. One church she took us too had a hole in the floor showing ancient Greek ruins discovered while building the church. Then she took us outside and behind the church, (which we would have never done) and showed us a small Greek amphitheatre that was used for royalty meetings. Shortly after leaving the church Alessia showed us a passage way to take to the large Greek/Roman amphitheater that overlooked the ocean and told us she would meet us in about an hour. On our way to the amphitheater we spotted a ceramic serving tray that was made in Caltagirone, Sicily. We both loved it but kept on walking. We bought tickets and went into the amphitheater and we were amazed at the sight before us. I sat down on one of the stone benches knowing that the Greeks and Romans had sat in the same spot. Wow.
On our walk back from the amphitheater we grabbed a cantaloupe gelato that was so good. Then we stopped and decided to buy the serving tray. The lady that owned the shop was a Canadian, and very friendly. She is going to ship it for me so we wonít have to try and pack it home. †After that we just strolled along window shopping back to meet Alessia and ran into about 10 big busses of tour people from a cruise ship, and we are so thankful that we have a private guide! We left that area and headed for Mt. Etna, but on the way we stopped in a little village to have lunch at a place called Gli Aragona. We first ordered anti-pasta and boy what a haul we had. There were plates of fresh olives, cauliflower, porcini mushrooms, roasted red peppers with bread crumbs, chicory, eggplant, and zucchini, all grown on the same mountain side we were on and was fresh that day. †The main course was veal and pasta with porcini mushrooms. Oh it was soo good.† Tony had a fresh made at tableside Canolli stuffed with fresh ricotta cheese and topped with pistachio nuts. Then he ended up buying two more to take to the hotel. He had to have two, †one for him and one for John. Sorry John they are both gone now! Ha After eating we headed up the mountain to the top of Mt. Etna. It was foggy and cold, so no great pictures from up there. We stopped at a visitorís center and walked to the rim of the crater. I picked up a couple of small volcanic rocks to take back home to Dad and Alex. Alessia asked if we liked liqueur and took us into the visitorís center where she got us a small shot of Etna Fire, it was red in color and RED HOT! But it did warm us up. From there we headed back towards the hotel down the south slope of the mountain and saw a house that had been swallowed by magna during the 1982 eruption. She snowboards up there in the winter time and said it was great to be able to snowboard and look at the ocean at the same time. The mountain is the life of this island and is very majestic. The lava flows over the centuries has created extremely fertile soils that produce wonderful foods. We saw lots of chestnut trees and saw people on street corners roasting and selling them. There is a festival here this weekend for the chestnut harvest. On the ride back to the hotel we talked about her family and life on the island and were very impressed with how similar our families are. No dinner for us again tonight as we are still full from lunch, but have gotten some recommendations from Alessia for tomorrow. Talk to you all then.