Friday, August 29, 2014

Holiday in Sicily: Taormina

After braving Etna we decided to go and visit the Greek / Roman amphitheatre in Taormina. It was a slightly longer drive than to Catania, again taking us onto the autostrada.
This time I failed to understand the signs and ended up taking the wrong lane and missing picking up a ticket for the autostrada. That meant when exiting at the super busy Taormina exit I had a problem. At first I had visions of a huge fine, fortunately playing the dumb tourist paid off and after serval minutes talking via intercom we paid the 1.60 euro fare.
Making the mistake of setting the sat nav to search for the amphitheatre we drove into Taormina, around and up up up way into the hills on narrow steep and scary roads with nowhere to turn. After about 40 minutes driving up down round and through the pedestrian zone we gave up and parked, parking was a ruinous 3 euro per hour but after the ups and downs I would have paid any price to get out of the car.

After a strong coffee, we found the the theatre is in the pedestrian part of town which we hadn't driven around. It was however worth all the effort, the views were spectacular, and the amphitheatre its self is incredible. Build by the Greeks then extended by the Romans perched with views over the Ionian coast. It must have been a thing of true wonder when it was build, they still do concerts there now, indeed they were setting up for an event. I think Philip would have been impressed.
After having a good look round and taking many pictures we headed back into Taormina for a wonder around the town. It is much more touristy than Acireale, indeed there were plenty of English tourists. We bought some souvenirs and had a walk. It is a picturesque and nice town but not so impressive as Dubrovnik was last year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Holiday in Sicily: Etna

What holiday in Sicily would be complete without a trip to Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in Europe. We decided to take one of the excursions in offered by Geo explorer after seeing their brochure in our hotel, and have it recommended to us by the receptionist.

Our guide picked us up from the hotel at 9.30am. Getting into the back of the 4x4 Landrover it was a little bit of a tight squeeze in the back with three other couples. The trip cost 50 Euro each plus 5 Euro shoe hire. I certainly would recommend the show hire as the scree could be difficult to negotiate in light shoes.

Our tour guide drove us up to the Etna park stopping first to the park a view inside a cave formed after a lava flow, a walk around an old crater at 2000M and a snack.

After the cave we headed further up Etna, looking at some of the past lava flows. The next stop was a basalt quarry, it was interesting to see how the lava cools, and where all the stone for the roads and buildings come from.

The trip then took us further up the Etna, first to a rest stop then on to the highest point of the trip the Silvestri Craters. These were old craters forming a line, one of which we walked round. The guide explained the process of their formation and pointed out some of the features like the rocks ejected out of the volcano. The views up there were nothing short of spectacular, though it was very crowded.

The final part of the trip was an excursion to a viewing point on the Southern side of Etna, here there were less lava flows but sometimes you can get a glimpse of the active area, this time we did not. The views were stunning though.

Finally we were taken down to the village of Zafferana for a snack. The snack was Arancini, a Sicilian delicacy. They are basically rice balls stuffed with ragu coated with breadcrumbs and fried.

I thought that the trip was a good value, especially considering the excellent context given by the guide and the lunch. I don't feel I would have appreciated some of this had we taken the trip alone. We did not get to see the active area, nor to the higher part above 2000 meters.

Holiday in Sicily: Catania

After several relaxing days we decided to venture from the Hotel and see some more of Sicily. We decided to start with Catania. A tourist and student hub Catania was destroyed by earthquake and volcanic eruptions in the 17th century and rebuilt in the baroque style.  Etna is still a visible presence on the horizon.

The drive to Catania was my second attempt at driving on the right. Again it made me curse Italian drivers for the total lack of empathy. They seem intent of barging through the smallest of gaps only to sit in traffic, honking their horns and gesticulating from behind the wheel.

Stall on the Catania fish market
We made the trip parking a short walk from the centre. Heading first to the fish market, we were pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant market with all sorts of fish from swordfish stake to sea urchins.

After absorbing the sights and smells of the market we stopped for a granita and a coffee in the centre of the town, the Fontana dell'Elefante. An impressive centre flanked by the Cathedral, the centre of which is taken by a rather odd looking statue of a smiling elephant topped with an Egyptian obelisk.

Bellini Theatre
We took a walk around Catania taking in the Cathedral, and the Bellini Theatre. As with Acireale there were many boutique shops. The outsides are sometimes scruffy but looking inside they are often incredible displays, almost art like in there objectification of the wares.

Holiday in Sicily

After arriving we spent a couple of lazy days enjoying relaxing by the pool. I read The Impossible Dead on my new Kindle Paperwhite.

The pool area was lovely, from the pool area you could see out to the sea. The pool itself was a good size if a little oddly shaped, we divided our time between the sun loungers, and the pool itself. Taking lunch al fresco on the terrace. The lunch menu consisted of either salad or a sandwich and a tall glass of Italian beer.

We did also find time to explore the town of Acireale. It is essentially a small compact town full of Churches. It is a popular place to get married and we witnessed a wedding virtually every day we walked around. Similarly to Spain the Sicilians take a siesta during the warmest part of the day, the shops close for this and reopen in the evening.

The architecture is particular to the region a mix of baroque, building are limestone with added basalt lifted from the many volcanic outpourings of Etna. This black and white effect has a pleasing effect and the buildings can be pretty.

There were a few decent restaurants in the town our favourite was Vecchia Aci. They commandeered a strip of park next to the Basilica creating a lovely outdoor area. There was took a bottle of Wine and a pizza, enjoying cool of the evening after a hot day.

Oddly we found in many of the places the starter before pizza is a plate of chips or crisps!

Holiday In Sicily: Arrival

Saint Sebastian Basilica
Kath and I decided to take our summer holidays in Siciliy this year. Neither of us had ever visited this part of Italy before, and the climate though hot being an Island was more hospitable than mainland Italy.

We left on Sunday morning flying form Manchester Airport Terminal 1, via EasyJet to Catania, Sicily. The flight was a brief 3 hour jaunt, slightly elongated by a delay leaving. This was thanks to the security at the airport.  They were really being thorough checking us in the security crewe, much more throughly than I remembered.

This year we decide to hire a car, I have never driven on the right side of the road before, and the car we were given was an automatic, another new experience. There followed a hair raising 45 minute drive, during which I learned, Italians don't follow any sort of traffic rules, Red light appear to be optional and right of way is determined by who gives first. We drove part of the way on the autostrada, a kind of low rent motorway which requires a toll. The toll from Acireale was 1.60 though the collection desk was closed so we didn't pay.

Fortunately we made it to the hotel safe and sound in spite of the super tight roads, my driving Kath's navigation managed to get us safely to the hotel.

The hotel was small and welcoming. We strolled passed the pool area to the desk and picked up the key. After a short siesta we headed out into the town to find some dinner. We stopped at a restaurant opposite the Saint Sebastian Basilica. I ate seafood pasta and Kath had a ravioli with spinach and ricotta in fish stew. It was a great way to start the holiday.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Uptight downtown

Mr Storm having a rest
Yesterday I dog sat Storm for my parents; they were going on a day out to Chester. Storm didn't seem too enthusiastic to start with. I took him for two walks one in the morning and one later before his tea time. He is getting old now only managed a couple of throws before he wanted to head back home. On the way back from the second walk he flopped down half way to have a rest.

Yesterday evening I met up with Bruce, he was showing off his new car; an Toyota Hilux. It is very awesome, leather seats aluminium lined trailer, I was very impressed.

Bruce myself and Jono went for a drink at the Unicorn, Bruce drove so we could have a ride in the beast.

The Unicorn was quiet, I wonder in contrast to the Bulls Head which was very busy.

Today is Kaths' birthday. Unfortunately I could not make it to Poland to visit as the flights are currently very expensive. Instead I surprised her with gifts I had her brother intercept, and with a bouquet of flowers. She seemed very happy, so win for husband.