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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Heading to Sant' Ambrogio

On our fourth day we visited the Catania fish market in the morning and we then packed the car and navigated our way out of the traffic filled streets of Cantani. Once again we were grateful to Rita for her clear instructions.

When we found the highway it was clear sailing all the way. The A20 highway is well constructed and an easy drive. When we got close to our destination our cell phone worked and we contacted our hostess who met us in the centre of town. We then followed her one kilometre into the country, up a steep road to our apartment overlooking the ocean As you can see in the pictures the outside area was large and beautifully landscaped. We looked forward to four restful days and nights. 


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Etna and Taormina

On day three we woke early and after breakfast met our guide for the day. The hotel had arranged for us to have a tour of Mt Etna. Rita, the wonderful concerige had helped us at the last minute to also arrange a trip the same day to Taormina.  Before we left that morning she was also on top of contacting a doctor to come later in the day to treat Joe's infected toe (more on that later). 

Fabrizio from Enjoy Sicily was our guide for the day. Fabrizo was a wonderful host and guide. From the first few minutes of getting to know us he was focused on helping us understand the geology and history of the volcano and the surrounding communities. Etna was quite amazing, black lava as far as the eye can see and hundreds of craters....and tourists. After Etna we enjoyed a visiit to a local agricultural commune where we tasted olive oils, pestos, wines and honey. 

Taormina was a short drive from Etna. Fabrizo dropped us off at one end of the town and we arranged to meet up 3 hours later. We had a quick visit to the Greek Amphitheatre (another one) which was not quite as interessting as Syracusa. Then we strolled down the main road which is lined with high end shops and tourists. There seemd to be many cruise ship groups, all with stickers indicating their bus numbers. We enjoyed our short visit, but we were very glad we hadn't stayed in this town. 

An American tourist we met in Catania had recommended a restaurant for lunch. We found it, but unfortunately it was closed.  But the chef was there and he steered us to the Osteria Nero d'Avola (like the local grape) which was perfect. The chef at this restaurant subscribes to the "slow food' movement and his food was delicious and of course local. He even had an Alice Waters salad on the menu. With the advise of the waiter we chose a local "Grillo" white wine. This was our first experience with this Sicilian grape. It was a very dry, mineral wine and was a great match for our fish dishes. 

We started with fried zucchni flowers that were stuffed wth ricotta, anchovies and lemon zest. A sicilian tempura. Monica then had a fish soup with wild fennel and pine nuts and Joe had grilled fish.  The chef came out to check that we liked the food and to explain his philosophy of cooking. This was indeed one of our favourite Sicilian meals. 

When we returned to the hotel Rita arranged for the doctor to see Joe. The doctor arrived, looked at Joe's toe and confirmed the infection. But then much got lost without translation. So Rita was called and she was great and facilitating our conversation. Joe's  toe was on its way to recovery. And the nail bar in Toronto is on its way to be inspected by Public Health. 

Dinner that evening  was a light affair on the Una's roof. Had fun conversations with some Americans and Canadians.  

Dinner at the Osteria Antico Marina - in the Catania Fish Market

After returning from Syracuse we rested a bit at our hotel. It was quite nice that we could simply hand the keys of our car to the hotel staff and have them take care of the parking. For dinner we took a short 10 minute walk to the fish market (closed in the evening) and had our dinner at the Osteria Antica Marina. The food was plentiful, authentic and scrumptious. The wines were lined up on a shelf for us to choose. 

We started with the antipasta - 8 small dishes of sardines, olives, eggplant and other delights. One of us had the tasting menu  and the other just a pasta. Of course we shared and had more food than needed. Monica had Pasta Norman which is made with eggplant was great and ravioli stuffed with tuna and baby tuna roe. Also had spaghetti with scampi and artichokes; two of Joe's favourites.   

Our main course was a plate of several fried local fish. 

We highly recommend this restaurant. 

Monday, 6 October 2014

Siracusa and Ortega

On our second day in Sicily we woke early, and had breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast includes coffee, fresh orange juice (you squeeze yourself), pastries, fruit, yoghurt, meat, egg etc. Overall we were pleased with the quality and choices. 

After breakfast we grabbed a cab to the airport to collect our car. Note: the cab from the airport to the hotel the previous day was just over 30 Euros, while the reverse trip was a set price of only 20 Euros. You can probably bargain, if you have the energy.

At the airport it was easy to find the rental location, but we must have a gotten there just after a big flight arrived. We waited around 30 minutes before it was our turn. We had to be a bit forceful to get the car we actually ordered, but the the person registering us was helpful and made sure we got the Alpha Romeo. Joe was happy to have a car with pep! We also had to sign a form indicating that if, in Catania, we parked anywhere but our hotel we were liable if the car was stolen. Elsewhere in Sicily we could park where ever we liked. This of course made us a bit wary about safety in Catania; but we had no problems while there.

After we received the car we headed to Siracusa and Ortega. We succesfully navigated to Ortega, an older part of Syracuse - and an island. We easily found a parking lot and with the help of an older local a free spot. Ortega was quiet, quaint and a real pleasure. When we had walked, lunched and explored our handy iPhone helped us navigate back to the car.  We then headed to the Greek and Roman amphitheatres where again we found free parking. Take note: you have to buy entrance tickets about 3/4 kilometre before you get to the entrance. We did not know this and got extra exercise. You can't miss the ticket area it is surrounded by garish souvenir stands. 

The Greek amphitheatre was amazing. Such sophisticated design. We sat on the stone seats and imagined people watching a play there 2400 years ago! There are also caves to explore. 

Returning to Catania was uneventful except for the half an hour detour when the GPS decided to get us lost and send us down one way streets - the wrong way! 

DInner that night was at the Osteria Antica Marina in the Catania fish market. A small restaurant specializing in fish. See next post.


We arrived at the Unu Palace Hotel around 1pm. Rita greeted us and began our check in. Rita is a marvel. She is so sincere and attentive and clearly wants her customers to enjoy every moment of their trip. Once we settled into our room off we went to explore the town. Catania is the second largest city in Sicily and feels quite urban with many local people spilling into the streets shopping or doing business. After a walk about we found an outdoor cafe and sampled the local "rice balls". Sloppy and gooey they were tasty to try. 

We returned to the hotel for a "siesta" after which we enjoyed dinner and drinks on the hotel roof. The drinks and wine were very good, the food enjoyable but not outstanding. The service was attentive and professional. The bartender was especially energetic and knew his craft. 

Our room was a decent size with a walk in closet. Also had a good view.