Thursday 31 July 2014


We discovered all about Mount Etna today. It has been active for the past five days and the cloud over the mountain during the day is caused by the volcanic activity. This morning we could hear rumbling noises and this evening we can see the explosions. It is a very impressive sight to see.

Mount Etna by day

Mount Etna by night

This morning we went to the Greek Theatre, 3rd century B.C. As a comparison with many we saw in Turkey it is well down the list, however, it is still worth a visit just for the view of the volcano behind the stage. There is an opera being performed in the next few days.

The water tap in the photo below is in the piazza near our apartment. To get there we go up the stairs, turn right and walk 10 metres.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Vincenzo Nibali

On Sunday Vincenzo Nibali won the world's greatest cycling race, Le Tour de France. It is sixteen years since an Italian has won Le Tour.
Nibali is a Sicilian and as Sicilians like to not think of themselves as Italian, I am sure this fascinating island is very proud of his great achievement.

Palermo to Taormina, Sicily

Today has mostly been spent in travel. We broke with tradition and took a taxi to the railway/bus station because our hotel was conveniently located by the port for our arrival into Palermo. An express coach took us to Catania in two and a half hours where we had a quick break for necessities and then caught the local bus to Taormina, arriving about 3.15 pm.

We have a great little apartment for four days with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette on the first floor and taking the outside steps to the 2nd floor we have a sun room/lounge with windows all around. From there we can see the Doumo and the sea. We also have a small garden. This place is definitely location, location.

Taormina is described as an old world resort town with gardens, cafes, a cable car to the beach and a Greek theatre (Turkey trip friends please note, a photo will follow for your comparison.) From our first impressions it seems that there are hundreds of restaurants and upmarket shops!

Note the stunning oleander bushes that have grown into trees. Tomorrow we hope to see Mount Etna, it was covered in cloud today so I hope it is not like Mount Fuji and often hidden.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Arrivederci Palermo

Once again we have walked a great distance but kept our energy up with gelati! The English garden was interesting as most of the trees were pines and large yukka and cacti. It did have statues, some follies, a tea room and a fun park so I guess it qualified. The children were enjoying the open spaces so that was good to see.


Markets are always fun and the Capo Mercato was no exception. Sword fish is a great Mediterranean favourite.

Last on our list for the day was a guided tour of the Opera House, Teatro Massimo. It is the second largest opera house in Europe and still has opera, ballet and plays in the season. It has all the trimmings of an 1860-90s classical building, including a royal box. We sat in the royal box for a few moments but were informed that the cost is about 3000 Euros for a performance.

Palermo has been described as a city of raw energy, deranged driving and chaos. A more appealing description is "a city of decay and splendour."  Arrivederci Palermo!

Monday 28 July 2014

Monreale and mosaics

Today we took a trip to Monreale to see the famed mosaics. It is a hilltop village about 8 kilometres out of Palermo. Every centimetre of the walls, ceilings and floors of the Benedictine monastery church are covered in intricate and beautifully coloured mosaics.It is quite spectacular to see; if we had not been to Ravenna previously we would have been totally wow-ed. In Ravenna there are many buildings with the spectacular mosaics and I think the colours are better in Ravenna. However it was certainly worth visiting for the other points of interest.


Inlaid marble

The cloister garden was interesting too as it also had its share of mosaics and intricate carved pillars. Water is scared here in Sicily and only the toughest plants survive. It was interesting to see that the feature trees in the cloister were an olive, a fig, a pomegranate and a date palm.

One of the specialities of Sicily is almonds so today we tried an almond tart full of marzipan ... very delicious.

We have also done some general sightseeing on the on-off bus. The commentary was interesting in its approach to public spending, corruption and the Mafia.It is very possible to see things started and never finished as they ran out of money. The university is a great example where buildings have never been finished and what was built has fallen into disrepair.

Time for a drink on the 7th floor balcony ;)

Sunday 27 July 2014

Palermo 1

Our hotel has a breakfast room with a view - right out over the port in one direction and into the rocky mountains in the other. Breakfast was pretty good too.

The weather is hot and a little humid but we have walked many kilometres already. Being Sunday most shops are closed, as are the churches and other attractions.

We went to Mass at the Chiesa San Domenico. This is more of a regular parish church rather than an historic monument like dozens of others we have seen. The older ones date from the 1100s to the 1600s with Moor, Arab and Norman influences.

We are doing the Sicilian thing and enjoying La Pausa - 2.5 hours at home before we head out again. At least it has given me time to catch up with the Blog when the internet is faster, and also to write the journal and maybe look at the email.

After the rest we went to see the Cathedral. It is absolutely huge and was built in the 1100s on even older foundations. The photo shows only about one third of it!

We finished the day as we started - on the 7th floor balcony, but this time with cool drinks in hand and watching today's ferries arrive and depart.

At sea & Palermo by night

What a restful day! Our cabin had a large window with views over the calm, blue ocean. We spent most of the day reading in our cabin and thereby avoided the hundreds of small kids on board. For lunch we had a prosciutto panini with enough prosciutto to indicate that it is the norm here, rather than something of a luxury.

We arrived in Palermo, Sicily about 5 pm and only had to cross the road to our hotel. Soon we were out pounding! the streets where things don't look like mainland Italy, it feels more like Barcelona or maybe Turkey. We found a great spot for dinner and I asked what was typical Sicilian on the menu. The waiter suggested spaghetti with sardines! I know, it sounds gross, but it was super delicious. I spotted pine nuts, sultanas and lots of juniper berries in it. With a glass of Sicilian red, it went down exceedingly well.

Walking home we passed a gelati shop so I chose pistachio and limone. It was pretty hot for eating whilst walking but we managed with lots of licking. Photo not for publication!!

                                               The Opera House is in the background

Kel is eating calamari

As we were walking home we came across a giant street party. All the streets in the area had a light show which was what caught our attention. It was a celebration for the patron saint of the vecchio borgo (old village), Saint Anna. There was rock music, food, drinks, stalls, fireworks and it seemed everyone was there.


Genoa is another marvellous city full of amazing architecture and, with its many narrow lanes, is a fun place to visit. It is said that the narrow ways were to confuse pirates however I think the natural fall of the land has something to do with it!

Christopher Columbus is one of the famous sons of Genoa.

Piazza Ferrari, classic architecture and a great fountain.

Lunch - sitting on the steps of San Lorenzo cathedral eating genuine foccacia and watching the children chasing the huge bubbles being made by the bubble lady, listening to gentle guitar music from a busker and people (and dog) watching.

Off to Sicily!

P.s. uploading photos is slow and time is short so the reports are brief at this stage. Loving the hot weather, already put on the weight I lost in preparation for this trip and enjoying it:)
How many gelati a day do you think is too many?

Thursday 24 July 2014

Milan to Genoa

It rained overnight and continued into the morning. We had planned to do the on-off bus routes today which is a tad tricky in an open top double decker bus. But rain can't deter travellers so we set off with one umbrella. It wasn't long before Kel added to our world collection of cheap umbrellas!

Milan is a very attractive city with tree lined streets and quite a bit of park land and the morning was well spent riding around the city.

After the usual, but very scary and unpleasant dealings with gypsy girls on the train, we arrived in Genoa after 5 pm.

This evening we have enjoyed a meal in the narrow streets of this palazzo filled city. Genoa is the home of pesto so it was essential to have some. I had a divine pesto lasagne followed by a tiramisu.


Milan was a wonderful surprise to us as previously we had only been to the railway station. We know that Milan is the fashion capital of the world (shared with Paris) but  the architecture here is also stunning. Yesterday we talked about 10 kms to see all the places on my list, today we did the on- off bus routes to see what we had missed.

The star attraction is the Duomo, Santa Maria Nascente, a frothy conglomerate of marble with 135 spires and about 3700 statues on the exterior. Started in 1386, it took hundreds of years to be finished. Inside it is very dark and rather drab.

Late in the afternoon we had a booking to see Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' in the refectory at the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. This work dates from 1495 so it is absolutely amazing that it still exists, especially when you see photos of war damage to the building.
It is forbidden to take photos so I am posting this one which I found on the web.

For us the highlight was the Basilica de Sant' Ambrogio - Saint Ambrose. He is the patron saint of Milan and the basilica was built in 379-386AD. Built in the Romanesque style, the frescoes were beautiful, the place looked well cared for and had great feeling ... and very 
few tourists!

Lunch was at the hottest lunch venue in Milan - Luini. The queues stretched way out into the street but efficient staff moved the customers through with speed and a smile. Guess where we ate our panzerotto?

Monday 21 July 2014

Andiamo! Let's go!

Andiamo! Let's go!

Finally it is almost time to go.
The roses have been pruned and the garden readied for spring growth, despite all the rain we have had this month.

The cases are almost packed,

the house is clean and the refrigerator is empty,

the nails have been done and the passports are ready,

and the family has arrived to take us to the airport early tomorrow morning.

Tutti per ora.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

It's not Italy, it's Lygon Street, Carlton

The days leading up to an overseas trip are quite stressful. This is especially so when you are all ready to go but the days just won't pass quickly enough.

We were feeling like that so we took an over night trip to Melbourne. We rode on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel then we went for dinner in Lygon Street.

Lygon St, Carlton has been the centre of the Italian community in Melbourne since the 1920s. It is our favourite place to eat and enjoy things Italian in Melbourne. Of course, we are not the only ones who appreciate the joys of Lygon Street, it is a popular tourist destination also.

There are an amazing number of restaurants,

lots of wonderful Italian food, 

gelati, wheels of grana padana cheese, legs of prosciutto, 

other things Italian,

but nothing, absolutely nothing, beats the Brunetti pasticceria!