Category Archives: Sicily

Week 20- Sicily (Week 2)


The plume of steam rising from Mount Etna

Posted by Stuart 

With Helen away for the week, busy visiting The Mammy in Ireland and her children in England, the heavy responsibility of writing the blog falls to me. Apologies in advance.

This week my son Callum and I enjoyed Sicilian baroque, a vertigo inducing hill-top town, some Greek and Roman theatres, a couple of fish markets, a volcano or two and… some skiing.

So, just a quiet week then.

We kicked off with a few choice bottles in a craft beer place followed by excellent food in The Red House- a shack on the dockside in Siracusa. This was pasta with sea urchins…



We mooched around Ortygia  and then visited the impressive if shabby and half closed archaeological park in Siracusa.



DSC_5149This is The Ear of Dionysius, named after the tyrant Dionysius 1 of Siracusa- probably a natural feature but one that was apparently used for holding and possibly torturing prisoners.

We then ventured along the coast to Augusta expecting to visit a small, quaint seaside town for lunch. Founded 27 centuries ago and with the old town on an island created in the 16th century, we had high hopes. A bit of a surprise then as it seems that most of the 35,000 (!) inhabitants work in the oil refining business and so hopes of the picturesque quickly faded. But we found a side street with a great restaurant and opposite it a bakery whose biscotti made the detour very worthwhile.

Scorpion fish and pasta (this is Callum looking impressed).


DSC_5158Biscotti from the bakery over the road-mmmm.

Callum agreed that skiing on Mount Etna could be a cool thing to do so off we headed. The ensuing hairy drive from sea level to 5500 feet up the north side of Mount Etna had the van overheating big time and we stopped frequently, trying to cool things down. Deep snowdrifts narrowed the road as we climbed and climbed.


Eventually we emerged into sunshine at Piano Palazzo, parked up, breathed a major sigh of relief and after a few minutes spent hiring skis and getting lift passes, off we went up the sole chairlift and then the button lift.


Four pistes, plenty of snow and great skiing in the sunshine for an hour until the cloud came down.


Another hour of skiing eventually  purely by touch and feel and it was time to stop.


Still, with the sun, the  skiing and the steam rising from the top of the mountain at 11,000 feet it was a unique experience. Satisfied that it had indeed been “cool”, we headed off down the mountain and sat in the van for coffee and a late lunch while the rain bounced off the roof.

And so, the madness that is Taormina..


As we headed to our destination for the night we saw a hill-top town in the distance perched on and around a very high cliff and it slowly dawned on us that this was where we were headed. Round and round and up and up we went – we even conquered a 13% gradient section – the same as the one that had defeated us in northern Spain.

At one stage we had Serena Satnav and two mobile phones, with Google maps, all showing  different squiggling routes to the top. But it was no use- we were lost and going around the mountain in circles.

We finally found somewhere to park but not before we were stopped by a very helpful lady in a fur coat whilst trying to drive our classic VW(i.e. tatty van) down the very swanky pedestrianised main street.

After the shabbiness of Siracusa, Taormina seemed to meet Callum’s expectation of Sicily –classy, elegant and expensive. Made popular by Europe’s rich and artistic in the late 19th century and now full of top class hotels and chic shops, it also had an English public park complete with follies created in the late 1800’s by blow-in Lady Florence Trevelyan.


So, why build a town in such a crazy location?

DSC_5183The views are truly fabulous, the Greek/Roman theatre is hugely impressive and the vertigo inducing drops at every turn add to the drama.



Volcanoes seem to be a bit of a thing in Sicily. Indeed, there is a volcano called Vulcano- one of the Aeolian Islands off the north east tip of Sicily. DSC_5191This isn’t Vulcano – it’s Stomboli from afar.

DSC_5210After an afternoon paddling in the sea, and as we couldn’t make it all the way to Stromboli in the time we had, we headed off from Milazzo on the hydrofoil for the 45 minute trip to Vulcano.


A pleasant stroll through Vulcano Porto in the sunshine and then off up to the Gran Cratere and the 1600 foot high summit.


We had seen see the steam escaping around the volcano rim from the harbour and the smell of sulphur became stronger as we got closer to the top.


DSC_5229Heading along the edge of the volcano, holding our breath and walking through the clouds of sulphurous steam and then further up to the main summit was quite an experience.



However, the best part was drinking the beer we had carried with us- the finest in Sicily as it happened.


Before Callum returned to England, we had some time in Catania.

Sicily’s second city had been flattened by erupting Mount Etna and then by an earthquake within the space of a few years in the 17th Century but what was subsequently re-built puts most modern town planners to shame.

And so we had a good hoof around the elegant squares and streets for a bit more baroque but the highlight was the fish market.


DSC_5285A great way to while away the morning but not many laughs…although this chap was having a blast…

DSC_5312 (2)

Very big knives for very big tuna…


These chaps were clearly looking forward to a big fish dinner….all in a light hearted mood, clearly.


And that was about it for the week. No bird of the week this week  (sorry but haven’t seen many)  but plenty of these critters enjoying the sun.


Oh, and just to be very clear- the roads in Sicily are truly shocking. All roads, including the toll roads, are falling to bits. Here’s a typical example….


Whilst we have managed to avoid the kamikaze Panda drivers and random abandoned (er..parked) vehicles it has been impossible to avoid the potholes.  Each time we hit one, I wince as the van takes a major hit. Oh, for the roads of Morocco- I felt safe there!

(N.B. Normal editorial service will be resumed next week)

Week 19 – Sicily (the first week)


Overlooking the beach at San Vito lo Capo

It feels a bit like cheating but this post is being written from Kilkenny (cats, hurling, dishwatery beer – that one). I’m here. Stuart is in Sicily.

I’m rejoining our trip next week but will be leaving these behind….

So farewell then trainers…your journey ends here

I’m in Ireland to see my 84 year old mother and she may, indeed, get more use out of a pair of trainers than me. I’d packed them thinking I’d build in the occasional run while on our travels. But now over one third the way through,  I know better.


There are just too many DVDs to watch to spend any spare time out jogging. We are only in season three of Game of Thrones for heaven’s sake. We’ve hours more mass mutilation and interesting positions to get through. BTW all of you who recommended GOT to us, earnestly praising its “Shakespearean” qualities, how come you didn’t mention how seriously, unrelentingly filthy it is? We’re not complaining mind. Just fascinated at the striking omission. Anyway, where was I?

Not running. That’s where I was. The realisation that packing the trainers represented a triumph of hope over experience dawned the other morning in Catania as we watched two fellow motorhomers jog circuits around the campsite. They were out for about as long as it takes to have a mug of coffee and a nutella-filled wrap. I can say that for definite because that’s what we were chomping on while they were lapping our van, looking all sporty and perky and just so damm fit. I’m quite sure they weren’t having nutella for breakfast.

Lovely couple they were and very loved up judging by the ‘TWO HEARTS BEAT AS ONE’ lettering emblazoned in capitals across the side of their big white van beside their names. We’d only be able to fit ‘TWO HEAR’ if we tried that on Molly. And that would just look odd. Like we’d misspelt a sign about the van’s passenger capacity.

So the trainers and also one set of walking poles will sit out our trip in Ireland. On my stopover in London and Manchester on the way here, I also jettisoned a pair of decorative plates and Stuart’s camera tripod.

He’s now come to terms with the reality that he’s a ‘snapsnapsnapborednow’ photographer and so is never going to spend hours outside setting up artistic shots.

Wild parking on a slopey car park in Ragusa…we lost our chocks hence the books

While I’ve stepped out of the trip for a week, Stuart only had a couple of days alone in Catania to rattle around in the van and marvel at how spacious it suddenly felt. His son Callum has now joined him and their planned itinerary involves further research into great craft beers of our time as well as skiing on Mount Etna if they can sort the logistics of getting the van up a snow-covered and still smoking volcano.

Sicily so far…

Before getting to Catania, we had a relaxing week travelling from Palermo around the coast. After disembarking from the ferry, we headed straight to the El Bahira campsite at San Vito lo Capo. It was in such an idyllic spot and the weather was so good, we decided we’d hang around there for a while.

The site was virtually empty apart from a few climbers who come here year round to tackle the high cliffs overlooking the sea and a couple from Yorkshire who’d rented one of the cabins on the site to go mountaineering. They advised us about the mountain walks they reckoned us amateurs could manage and which didn’t involve ropes and crampons.


I’m afraid they over-estimated our orienteering ability. We followed one of the routes but lost the trail and spent a couple of fruitless hours scrambling through thick scrub not getting anywhere.

We eventually made it to the top…

….and enjoyed the views over the sea.



Springtime on the mountain

Getting down proved just as challenging…





…but thankfully we made back just before the sun set.



On another day, Stuart tried a bit of fishing…but no catch today.



And the harbour at San Vito Lo Capo was a relaxing place to amble.


As they were leaving for their flight back to the UK, the Yorkshire couple (the mountaineers) pulled up by our van and handed over all the groceries they hadn’t used during their two-week stay. Very, very kind but oh dear, we are being given food parcels now.

Maybe it was time for Stuart to have a shave.

Back on the road..

…we headed down the south coast and stopped off to see the Scala dei Turchi or Turkish Steps. That’s the rocky white cliff on the coast of Realmonte, near Porto Empedocle. Apparently Barbary pirates used to hide from storms on the smooth steps…





…we used them to pose for selfies.


The earthquake villages of Gibellina and Poggioreale:

We travelled inland to the Belice valley because we wanted to see El Cretto. That’s the name given to the massive artwork sculpture by Alberto Burri which commemorates the village of Gibellina which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1968.

From a distance, it looks like a white shroud laid over the hillside.


Up close, you see that the shroud is made up of massive concrete slabs which have been laid over the original village.


We made our way between them, following the lines of the original streets. It was sad and unsettling, walking along tracks which used to be busy streets before the disaster which killed 900 people in the village and surrounding valley.



Graffiti eyes over looking El Cretto

Leaving El Cretto, we passed through the village of Pollogiere, the new one that is.

‘New’ Pollogiere – rebuilt after the 1968 earthquake but the architecture not quite standing the test of time if you compare to the ‘baroque’ towns below

The original village was also completely destroyed in the earthquake but unlike Gibbellina, there were no funds for a commemorative artwork.

Still, the ruined village – behind locked gates when we visited – is clearly visible from its modern successor and was just as poignant and powerful a reminder of what happened that awful day.


If it is looking like earthquakes are a bit of a theme this week, that’s not intentional. Our last few days before reaching Catania were spent visiting the beautiful towns of Ragusa, Modica and Noto – all well known for their baroque architecture and all constructed after a devastating earthquake of 1693.

Here’s a flavour of the exuberant, extravagance of it all….









And as a break from Baroque…

…here’s another blast of fascist architecture. It’s Ragusa’s post office…


Ragusa was also where we found a  little museum dedicated to Italy’s colonial history in Africa… that’s an aspect of history I confess to knowing zero about.


The exhibits were mostly mannequins wearing the original uniforms worn by Italian services in their ‘scramble for Africa’……



And here’s one family group dressed as they were when setting off for a new life in colonial Libya…


…complete with the essential accessory for all  fascist fashionistas…a headscarf with ‘Duce’ decoration…


And while in Ragusa, we managed to fit in some more wedding stalking…


..and try some fabulous Sicilian food like this warm and garlicky antipasto of ricotta, mozzarella, olives, aubergines, olives and mushrooms….


…bucatini with sardines and fennel..


And more ricotta for dessert, this time stuffed inside crispy cannoli shells.


As for the ideal picnic lunch, we had arancini – fried balls of rice stuffed with ragu sauce or spinach..




And for afternoon tea, when in Modica, what else could we have except pastry filled with the local chocolate.



So that was week one in Sicily. As Stuart continues our trip there,  I’m off to supervise my mother’s circuit training.