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.
This 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).
Biscotti 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?
The 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. This isn’t Vulcano – it’s Stomboli from afar.
After 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.
Heading 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.
A great way to while away the morning but not many laughs…although this chap was having a blast…
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)