Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Today I got better acquainted with my neighbor.  This is what she looked like this morning from my balcony…….

Yup, that’s snow capping her....a pretty significant change from just ten days ago.  I had wanted to take a 2-hour trek to the site of her 2002 eruption, but not enough people signed up for it, so I resorted to a drive that only covered about a quarter of her girth.  But you can see from this photo, that, after two hours of driving, I did get a closer look at her.....

Mt. Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe, standing at 3,329 feet and the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps.  There are some differences of opinion about the origin of the name Etna.  One is that it comes from Greek for "I burn", and that's the one I chose so I could use my favorite headline for this post ;-)

I don’t know if mountains are shes or hes, but it was an interesting drive up the mountainside and through the brave little towns that are nestled there.  This one, Bronte, is famous for the pistachios it grows.

All along the way, you see these lots of these small stone cottages...... 

....and tiered stone fields where, I assume, Sicilian farmers or vintners once grew their crops or grapes. 

After a couple of hours of hairpin curves, I reached the town of Adrano, which was pretty ugly.  I was shocked at the amount of trash on the roadside around this town. ….I mean, garbage bags of trash.  I’ve not seen anything like it since I got here.  It was pretty disgusting, particularly in the pullover areas.  I wonder if this was tourist trash or native trash.  At any rate, the natives don’t seem to be keeping that area tidy.  

I saw only one attractive area in Adrano, a small plaza with this statue in the center of it.

On the way back, I took a different road part of the way; and I’m glad I did, because I found an entrance to Mt. Etna Park and drove up the park road as far as I could.  The road started to get crumbly and rutty, and I had only seen three cars in about 15 minutes.  I carry some bad memories of a drive through a national forest in New Mexico on bad roads, where I was sure I would perish, so I decided to play it safe and retreat. 

I saw this stone house in the park. It’s so much bigger than the stone cottages I’d been seeing that I think it must have been the equivalent of a villa back in its day.  

It had three large rooms, one with the remains of a stone hearth and oven….

and one with a spectacular view of the mountains and valley below.

It also had a huge attached barn (I think), with three large arched areas that were used for I don’t know what…maybe for animals, maybe for crop storage.

I tried taking pictures of the mountains, but you know how that goes.  There’s just no way you can capture the majesty and expanse of what you’re viewing with a regular camera.  There isn’t much color in the mountain landscape…it’s  various shades greys and browns with only green to brighten it a bit……

In some areas, you see lava fields like this….again, you can’t get the expanse of them in the lens….

There was a pine forest I passed through where the trees were all a light burnt orange color.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  There was nowhere to pull over and take a picture, so I can’t share the view.  That was true many times on this journey….no space to pull over; and it was surprising how much traffic there was on these mountain roads, so you couldn’t just stop on the road.  Surprisingly, I saw more semi trucks on these mountain roads today than I did on the autostrade!

Anyway, I got closer to my neighbor, but she still gave me the cold shoulder.


I’ve never been much of a cannoli fan.  But today, I went searching for a Wifi connection so I could download some books on my Kindle Fire.  I went back to that other little mountain town above me, Linguaglossa, and started wandering the streets in search of.  Sometimes you just luck out.  My first stop was a café/pastry shop; and when I asked where I could get a Wifi connection, I was told “qui”..... here.

I felt obligated to buy a cappachino in exchange for the free Wifi (it’s not free everywhere here); and while I was sipping and downloading, I was also eyeing all the pretty pastries in the case that was right next to me…..I mean, within grabbing distance.  I saw the cannoli and decided it was time to try one.  It was about noon, and I was a little hungry.  I’ve never been a huge fan of cannoli….ricotta cheese has never been a favorite….but since cannoli are big in Sicily, I thought I should at least give it a chance. 

All I can say is…HOLY CANNOLI!  This was the best cannoli I had ever tasted in my life….not that I have eaten hundreds; but if I lived here, I’m sure I would be eating these regularly.  The ricotta cheese was flavored with spices and its texture was deliciously smooth and creamy and rich.  I was in cannoli heaven.  Of course, I bought a couple to take home.  Here’s what one of these delightful treats looks like….it’s a big’un...that's a dinner fork.  

They also had ones filled with yellow cream and others with chocolate cream.  I think I must try them all!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I need a navigator (any volunteers?).  While I’m doing well finding my way to and from places by car, once I get into a city, I can’t find things.  When it’s a small town, no problem….I can just get out of the car and walk around.  But in a city the size of Siracusa,, with a population of about 125,000, it was impossible to drive and then try to find streets where there were sites I wanted to see.  So I just headed for Ortygia,, the island where the old city is located.  I parked by the bridge into the city and set out by foot to explore because I wasn’t sure how difficult it might be to find a parking spot on the island. 

The city is notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheaters, and architecture, and it was the birthplace of the mathematician and engineer Archimedes.  This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world.  The city was founded by Ancient Greek Corinthians and later became part of the Roman Republic and Byzantine Empires.  Siracusa is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

This was my first sighting upon entering the streets of this ancient city….the ruins of the temple of Apollo….

Then I came upon this large and colorful outdoor market…………

Where there were numerous vegetable vendors like this.

The various types of tomatoes here are bright red and delicious……

And several vendors of fresh fish....that coiled fished on the bottom right is an eel.

And one lonely flower vendor……………

There were also vendors of meat, cheese, nuts (pistaschios are grown locally), olives, bread, pastries, etc.  I wished I could do my grocery shopping here every day!  I wanted to buy some of that fresh fish, but thought my car would be pretty smelly for the drive home.

I continued to wander down narrow streets like this……….

And, believe it or not, you have to keep your eyes and ears alert for cars and motor scooters!

I came upon the large Duoma Piazza, where this cathedral dwarfs the buildings around it in size and beauty…………..

The cathedral was built by bishop Zosimo in the 7th century. The façade was rebuilt in 1725–1753, with a double order of Corinthian columns, and statues by Ignazio Marabitti.

There was a couple there having a wedding photo shoot.  I didn’t realize until I was cropping this photo that I caught the bride with her skirts up…..

There was another couple in the plaza, waiting for their turn for wedding photos.  You can see the bride's gown framing the guy in the front of the photo above this one. 

Also in the piazza is the Basilica of Santa Lucia, a Byzantine church built, according to tradition, in the same place of the martyrdom of the saint in 303 AD.

The current appearance is from the 15th-16th centuries.  A painting by Caravaggio, the Burial of St. Lucy, hangs at the back of the altar.  Of course, no photographs of this work were allowed.

Along one street, I came upon this display of sculpture by a Japanese artist, whose name I can’t remember…………

This very contemporary display seemed out of place in this ancient city.

I was checking out menus of trattorie and bars as I wandered.  I decided to have arancini for lunch.  Arancini are balls of risotto filled with cheese and meat and/or veggies, then rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried.  I had made some arancini last Christmas as an appetizer for my Italian Christmas menu, and I had one for a snack when I was visiting Ischia.  But they are a Sicilian specialty, so I knew I had to try them here.  The ones I made and the one I had in Ischia were the size of a ping pong ball.  There were 8 varieties on the menu, so I thought I could easily eat four, so I ordered four different kinds.  Sorry, I forgot about taking a picture before I had already eaten part of one…..

I was slightly shocked when they were brought to the table, because these were as big as a large peach!   This was particularly surprising because they cost only 1.5 euro each.  Two would have been a bargain and a hefty lunch for me.  I ate the insides of all of them along with about 1/3 of the surrounding rice. 

After lunch, I wandered around the edges of the island and took these shots……

Can't you just see the history oozing all over this place?  

I wonder how old this building is.

This is the newer part of the city where you can see the modern Church of the Madonna of the Tears rising above the other buildings……..

One the way back to my car, I found the Fountain of Diana in the Archimedes Square.

I got lost for a while on the drive home....for some reason, I have trouble finding the autostrade.  I started following the signs, but then I must have missed one, because I ended up on a country road going who knows where.  I decided that as long as the sun was on my left arm, I was going north and that was good, so I just kept driving through this beautiful countryside with its groves of olive trees, fruit trees, and vineyards.  I eventually saw signs for the autostrade again, and this time, I found it.  

Friday, October 26, 2012


It’s been raining for two days, and I’m kinda bored.  Can’t watch TV, because I can’t figure out how to operate it.  You wouldn’t think it would be that hard.  There’s no cable or satellite here, but there are two remotes, and I’m not sure why.  One is the same brand as the TV, but when I push the power button nothing happens.   Same with the other remote.   I’ve been listening to NPR on my computer, and it’s good to hear another human voice.  I’m feeling a little lonely for the first time since I left home. 

It’s been a little chilly yesterday and today.  I am in the mountains, after all.  I’m glad I kept some of my warm clothes.  I’ve been mostly eating in since I’ve been here.  I had lunch at a little deli-like restaurant in the little town that’s close by….a delicious half chicken that had been spit roasted in a wood-fired oven and then dipped in olive oil with herbs.  I’ve seen only one restaurant in Piedimonte Etneo, and I’ll try it before I leave.  Anyway, I have plenty of food here, so I won’t need to go out into this gray rainy day for anything.  I make expresso one cup at a time in one of those tiny expresso makers and then water it down to make what’s called caffe’ lungo here…or American coffee.   I have to wait until the expresso maker cools down to make my second cup.

Yesterday, I kept hearing something like a phone ringing and couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from.  I thought it might be the phone in the apartment below me.  Though I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it (although my mother would), there’s an intercom phone right by the door.  I can’t imagine who would have been calling on me, but maybe they’ll come back.  I’m reluctant to answer the door here, because there are very few people around.  I think I’ll just look out the window where I can see who’s at the door. 

Sometimes, the synapses in my brain just don’t connect.  This isn’t an aging issue…it’s always been this way for me.  I bought this international calling card, so I could talk to people in the U.S. cheaply (since I can’t get my MagicJack to work), and thought I had hours of talking time.  But, what I didn’t think about was that every minute I talk might count against the mere 250 minutes per month I signed up for when I bought my smart phone.  DOH!   I thought that would be plenty of minutes, since there are only a couple of people here who call me.  As most of you know, I’m a newbie when it comes to using cell phones, and my smart phone is definitely smarter than me!  I ran out of minutes on the 21st in the middle of a phone call with my mother.  I went to the website of my cell phone company, looking for instructions on how to purchase additional minutes, or to get help from customer service, but to do either, I needed to register.  And to register, I needed to have an Italian ID number, which I assume is something like our SSN.  Dead end.  My cell phone company doesn’t have a store in the area, so I went into a different carrier’s store, and a very kind man, who didn’t speak English, was able to get me to understand that all I need to do is go into a Tabbaci and buy my minutes there. 

There are these stores called Tabbacis in every town in Italy, I think.  It’s where you go to buy your bus or train tickets, cigarettes (no, I’m not), phone cards, magazines, snacks, and I’m not sure what else they sell behind the counter.  I would never have thought to go there to buy more minutes for my cell phone.   Sometimes I feel like a child, just trying to figure out how things work here.

The day I got here, I stopped at a bancomat (ATM) to get some cash.  I couldn’t complete the transaction, so I went into the bank to see what the problem might be.  The entrance was similar to what I experienced at the post office in Sorrento.  You stand in front of a glass door and press a button that’s lighted green.  The door opens and you walk in.  One person at a time can enter.  The door closes behind you, and you are now in a glass enclosure the size of small closet.  I don’t know if you get x-rayed in there or what, but then the next door opens and you can enter the bank.  There were two men working in the bank, both sitting at desks—a typical office setup.  One customer sat in a chair across the desk from one of the men.  The other man was working on his computer and ignoring the two other customers and me, who were all waiting for service.  The man who was helping the customer at his desk opened one of the desk drawers and counted out cash to give to the customer.  Every time I want to do something that’s just a simple errand, I encounter the unfamiliar and it throws me off it bit. 

I have seen nothing that parallels the American “superstore”—you know, like a K-Mart or Walmart, where you can buy anything.  Here there are lots of specialty stores.  You go to one to get your fruit and veggies, another to get your meat, another to get fish, another to get grocery staples (although some supermarkets have some meat and fish, but not the one here), the pharmacy, the phone store, the electric store, the flower shop, the pastry shop, the shoe store, etc. , etc.  And I’ve already mentioned the crazy hours.  You do your errands before lunch or after 5 p.m. 

When I traveled in Europe before, I had always stayed in hotels and eaten out every meal.  Renting a self-service apartment gives you a totally different perspective.  You have to figure out how stuff is done and how things work.  I’ve never really been good at figuring out how things work.

When so many things in your daily life are different, you feel the meaning of “fish out of water”.   I’m surrounded by water here, so hopefully I’ll be swimming soon!  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


It was a pretty gray day today, and I debated about going to Taormina, but decided to go for it.   I threw an umbrella in the car and set out along the coast road.  Taormina sits on a cliff above the Ionian Sea and is said by many to be the most beautiful place in Sicily.  I haven’t seen enough of Sicily to comment, but it sure is beautiful, even on a gray day……

Taormina is an ancient city that was inhabited first by a native Italian tribe, the Siculi, before it was taken from them by the Greeks around 734 BC.  Then it was passed to the Romans in 263 BC. The Arabs took it in 902 and two years later they were conquered by the Normans.  In the 13th century, it came under French rule and in the 17th century it was governed by the Spanish but bounced back to the French toward the end of that century.  This is the character of Sicily—the influences of these many cultures can still be found here.

Your jaw is constantly dropping at the magnificent views as you drive up the mountain around countless hairpin curves and see sights like this all the way....

Beginning in in the 19th century, Taormina became a popular tourist resort and was frequented by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Nietzsche, Goethe and Richard Wagner.  While Taormina is still clearly a tourist town, the season is ebbing, and it wasn’t very crowded in the town.  I wandered the streets for about an hour and a half.  Here’s the beautiful altar of one of the churches………….

 This church I saw walking toward the town is a bit more humble.....

The courtyard of the 10th century Palazzo Corvaia…….

I had lunch at a restaurant that was perched on the edge of the cliff, and the funicular ran right beside it…..

It goes from the town down to the beach.

After lunch, I decided I wanted to drive up to the town of Castelmoro, which is perched on an even higher cliff above Taormina.  This is where I thought I was going….it’s an ancient Saracen castle.…..

After countless hairpin curves, however, I arrived in a place even higher than the castle, where I took this picture and the one of the castle.....

I wish I could have been there on a really sunny day to capture the brilliant beauty of this place.  I wanted to get to that castle, but the only road I saw that was going up had a one way sign and I never saw another road that looked like it would get me there.  I think I need to go back to Taormina again before I leave Sicily, because I never found a couple of places I wanted to see, and I want to figure out how to get to that castle.

I was pretty proud of myself when I was able to find my way to the autostrade, because it saved me a bunch of time getting back.  I drove (literally) through the mountains and maneuvered around countless more hairpin curves going down. It felt like I went through the same mountain four times, and the tunnels kept getting longer.  I’m pretty amazed at how I’m finding my way around, and I’m getting pretty good at the shifting, too.  When I was on the autostrade, cars whizzed by me on the left going a million kilometers an hour—okay, maybe it was less than that, but they were pretty much flashes as they went by.  I was wimping along behind a bus and decided I needed to get a bit more aggressive, plus the fumes were nauseating, so I pushed the odometer up to 120 kilometers an hour and felt like I was sailing, which is strange because it’s only 75 miles per hour, and I drove that fast on the freeways at home all the time.

Anyway, it was a lovely day, and I like being a mountain goat...I mean girl.