McKinney Gypsy Caravan

One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Category: Sicily

Day 13-Taormina and CataniaΒ 

Today was the day of grumpy cat. Prepare for a lot of this throughout the blog: 

 Nothing was extremely terrible. We just managed to meet every single self-centered jerk on the planet in one day along with travel issues. But we had some fun, too!

First trip of the morning was to Alcantera Gorge. The views out to the place were great.   

    
 
When we arrived, a lot of the site was closed due to the flash flooding from the heavy rains but we were still able to walk around the top portion trails. They started up out with a 3D video  about the volcano and rock formations that I thought was going to be terrible but it turned out pretty good and it was Norah’s first 3D movie. She was tripping. She was determined to catch the butterflies fluttering at her.  

    
    
Norah met some friends along the way.   
    
    
 It started raining so Norah and I shared our “umbrella”. Ha 

 After leaving, we headed back towards the city of Catania
   
  
We spotted this city wayyyy up on top of the hill. So we went!

  

  

  

  The city of Taormina was beautiful. Just when I had given up hope of loving anything in Sicily we found this gem. This truly was a fantastic place that I couldn’t recommend enough. The street are almost medieval, its main square and church at from the Norman invasion period of the 1200s but there have been people here since before the Greeks around 750BC.  It was clean, there were restaurants and bars…they even have a skylift that runs down from the city to the beaches in the summer. No stairs. Yay! This city was built with me in mind! Haha

  

  

 You can tell it has a history of being an artist muse town with tons of shops and vendors.

  

  

  The views from the city are outstanding. The water is perfect. 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  We walked through town and ended up at a restaurant that had the best gnocchi either of us had ever had in our lives.  This was the kind of food we had expected all vacation but to this point had actually been pretty disappointed..

 
 

 

   
    
    
  To keep quiet, I gave Norah my phone. She entertained herself with the McDonalds menu of all things. Weirdo. 

   
The best part of the vacation had to be tempered with the worst part of the vacation though…and here’s where our day kinda just took a nose dive. Lol

We headed towards the airport because we were hopping a flight from Catania in Sicily back to Rome since we had a direct flight to Atlanta from Rome, we structured the trip so that we started and ended here. 

First, we couldn’t find where our rental car was to be returned because the signs were absolutely terrible. Plus there was no sign for the company we rented from  

 Then, we had rented a wifi device in Rome that was supposed to give us unlimited wifi  and we could connect up to 10 devices. I was skeptical but the signs all said it, my contract even says it. It worked fantastic for  the first two days. I even made a note to make sure to recommend doing this to anyone travelling in Italy. Then it just stopped. We even took it to a TiM store (their Verizon wireless) and the guy basically told me that there was no such thing in Italy as unlimited data and the SIM card in the device was so old he couldn’t even add data to it for me, so it was basically a paperweight. So I had to get a new SIM card for my phone to have data-another $65- because the one I bought online before our trip-so I didn’t waste time once we landed finding cell service-was never activated by Telestial wireless.

 So I asked the company for a refund for the price of the wifi device. After 30 minutes of a bunch of Sicilians gathered around the device and trying all of the things I already tried and telling them I already took it to a store, they said the best they could do was a $50 refund. (It cost $150) but that was all I was getting so I agreed reluctantly. Better than nothing. So he printed the refund agreement. It said $40. He magically didn’t speak English anymore. Then I got my receipt in my email- he refunded $28.  

 So we gather our things and proceed to the airport and go to the line to check in and get our tickets. The guys stand there talking for 5 minutes blatantly ignoring us before just walking away to talk further away where we wouldn’t bother them. Ha
So I went to the ticket purchase booth and asked where we are supposed to be because I think I must be in the wrong spot. He tells me that I was in the right place, it’s just that they aren’t checking people in for ten more minutes. (How hard would that have been to say???)

So we wait in line 15-20 minutes or so and get to the lady and she can’t find our tickets. She looks for 5-10, makes a call or two then sends us back to the ticket booth across the way. 

We get over there and they basically tell us we don’t have tickets for the flight-even though I’m standing with confirmation # and flight info in hand. She wouldn’t put us in seats- so we had to buy 3 seats at 4 times the price to get on the plane. We originally paid $137 for all our tickets- we had to paid $400 again.

We get on the plane (after being crammed like sardines on a bus that takes us out to the plane) and the flight is only 1/3 full.

  
 To top it off it was a terrible flight! Haha Kegan and I were both nauseous from the flying and Norah’s mouth didn’t close from take off to landing. We were definitely over Sicily/Italy by the end of the flight. Haha

Luckily, we got a cab with no issues who drove 150km/HR 😳 on the highway to Rome. 

We decided to stay outside of the city center and not rent a car for the last couple days and just enjoy a little typical residential Roman life. We are in a top floor apartment in a residential building. (Stairs. My new best friend.) Very cute but built for an elf. Seriously, you can only stand up straight in the center of the room! haha

    
    The ceiling is only about 5 foot at the toilet so Kegan is having fun. Lol
  On the other hand, Norah loves it because she can even see onto the kitchen counters. She keeps calling it her “baby kitchen”. πŸ™‚ The wifi works intermittently and the heat works somewhat- so for Europe, we’re doing pretty good! πŸ™‚ Here’s hoping tomorrow redeems this evening a bit  

 

Day 12-The Baroque South and Syracuse

We started our morning off with breakfast that was included with our room- which in he way of Italian breakfasts, wasn’t too terrible. Blood orange juice, toast a couple pieces of salami and cheese and a piece of cake.    
   
We had a four hour drive across the southern coast of Sicily to reach the cities of the East coast and I’d like to blame the lack of pictures on the fact that Norah and Kegan were sleeping the whole time because I told him I was going to call him out on the blog-but the fact is, there just wasn’t much to see or photograph other than the rolling hills of vines and mountains and the occasional small town along the way. 

    
    
    We did spot a McDonalds and against Kegan’s advice I went through the drive through to get a Happy Meal for Norah.
    
The hamburger was way better here than in the US. It’s probably actually real meat over here because the burger was like 100 calories more than back home.

 I will say that American gas stations need to up their coffee game though compared to Italian gas stations. There is no coffee machine station with paper cups. There is a counter and ceramic cups and an awesome espresso machine with a barista. This is something I wouldn’t mind bringing back to the US with us. At this point it’s close to one of the only things! πŸ™‚

 

   
    
  They call this area The Baroque South because a huge earthquake levels the entire area in 1693. Therefore, all of the buildings being rebuilt reflected the style of the time.  
    
    
Right outside of Syracuse, a pack of dogs decided our car looked fun to chase. Haha

We stopped outside the city and got gas station sandwiches. Lol

   

 We arrived at the Greek archiologic center 30 minutes before they closed so we basically had to speed walk through the park. I took Norah’s picture in the tree tunnel , then she wanted to take our picture.  

 Not bad…  

    Thee famous Ear of Dionysius. Dionysius was he king of Syracuse (not the goddess of wine which happens to be my favorite Dionysius). This cave it named such because they say he used to place his enemy prisoners inside this cave because of the acoustics- you can hear even a whisper from inside loud and clear. Ancient spy tactics. 
This area is called the Latomes. It’s a giant quarry where all of the  stone for the Greek amphitheater and the ancient city was mined by prisoners.   
And more hills. Lol

    
An Ancient Greek theater from the 500’s BC. Plays. Theater, poetry- all overlooking an ocean view. It was a very peaceful place…

  With amazing views  
    
 Norah was most excited about drinking out of the public water fountain.   

 The peace of the Greek theater explains why when the Romans conquered 600 years later, they had to build a Roman amphitheater just a few steps away. The setup on the side of the mountain would never allow for flooding the floor for naval battles and there was no underground channels under the floor that they would raise the gladiators. What I get out of this is that the Romans weren’t so into poetry. Lol

   
    

Lots of strange plants and trees in this area. 

 
  

As we left Syracuse you could begin to see Mt. Etna on the horizon. 

 We arrived at our apartment for the evening. Around 6pm- Norah was excited because there was cable. She watched an Italian cartoon she has loved called Masha e Oso (Masha and the Bear).

  

  

  

It was a fine example of the kind of decor one can make out of IKEA products. haha  it was a comfy bed for the first time since we got here! I didn’t want to leave!

Our host Federico recommended the town of Brucoli for Pizza so we headed into town.

The town sits right on the ocean… Like the sidewalk ends in water right here. Norah wanted to see the dolphins (??…no idea)

 She brought us fresh buffalo mozzarella and smoked as well (this area is famous for it).   Norah got “chips”. So it was a good day.
  And they had a chalkboard for kids so she was very excited about this place.  
We went back and did a load of Laundry and slept like babies πŸ™‚

Day 11-Palermo and Sagesta

We woke up around 6:30 to a deep-voiced Italian man telling us the restaurant was now open for breakfast as we neared Sicily.  Some of us had a better night than others. Haha     

 We left the room and headed to the common area to await permission to return to our car and drive off the boat. Norah made a friend while waiting, but he was very confused by her because he only spoke Italian. Ha 

   
Driving in Palermo was par for the course-terrible. 

We drove downtown to a sketchy part of town and parked the car because I had wanted to go to some catacombs while in Italy. We may see some more in Rome on Saturday, but to be sure- we went to these.  

  
The Capuchin catacombs were started in the late 1500s by the Capuchin Catholic monks and originally was just for preserving and mummifying the bodies of other monks. Eventually the local people starting asking to be embalmed and cared for here and in the end, over 8000 bodies are cared for by the monks to this day. Most of the bodies are from before 1900 but there are couple up to the 1920s including 2 year old Rosalinda Lombardo who was embalmed in the 1920s and still looks like she’s sleeping today. Apparently they finally got the formula right at the end. Families would pay for their loved ones to be kept here and they would be placed in the cubbies along the walkway. Families could then come and hold hands for family prayer with their loved ones. If a family stopped paying, then the bodies would be placed high above on the shelves until the payment resumed. Sounds like a scheme to me.
    
  

The monks are dressed in their robes, professionals in clothing of the era. There is a hall for women, children, virgins, etc.   
       I saw this guy and said,”That looks like Napolean!” Turns out, he was a Napoleonic French soldier, Colonel Enea DiGiuriano  

Photos are forbidden, but I’m a rebel…and I couldn’t NOT share this! Ha

  
Stock photo below because they have this roped off. I will never understand charging admission to something and then roping off the main “attraction” so far that you can’t even see it. Another reason why I took pictures. “The catacombs are sacred resting places and the bodies shouldn’t be disturbed”-but if you’ll pay us we’ll totally let you walk through…. Yeah, real sacred. Haha (does my sarcasm come through sufficiently in text?) πŸ™‚

After the catacombs, we checked out one last cathedral because, according to what I read, this was not one to be missed. We headed south of Palermo to a little suburb town called Monreale.  We grabbed some coffee and breakfast right outside but due to my terrible Italian, we ended up the hot dog rolls instead of the prosciutto ones below it. Haha either way, it was good. 
They also had a chocolate cake and Nutelle roll… It was pretty outstanding.

   
    
     
    
    
    
   
  
    

I would like to say that Italy and Sicily are beautiful, but truth is- most of it just looks like this.

 After Monteale we took a drive west through some coastal towns and began to see a little more of the Sicily I had envisioned of mountains and olive trees and orange groves. 

We then headed to Segesta, a small little mountain town with some Ancient Greek ruins and temple. This temple is unique because experts don’t think it was ever even finished. There is no fluting on the Doric columns, there are tabs on the big stones that were normally removed about being placed in the temple and they’ve found no signs of paint or any alterpiece in the area.  

Again, all of the hills. This is how Italians eat nothing but bread and pasta and aren’t fat…they built everything on the side of a mountain!

  The views, however, do make it worth it.   
    
    
    
  

We were in Segesta, where our hotel was,but it was only 1pm….so we decided to head for the coast and check out some white beach cliffs…but midway there it started pouring rain with no signs of stopping, so we decided to just head back to Segesta. 
We ate at a restaurant that we knew was open because the owner stopped us as we pulled in the parking lot of ruins to tell us that we should come to his restaurant for dinner! Ha It was a good thing he was out promoting it or we would have never found it and never thought it would be open. It was 3 miles down a dirt mud road with spray painted signs along the way to guide you… We weren’t sure what to expect when we walked in. 

It was actually pretty good. 

    
     
    
    
After dinner we headed to our room on a goat and sheep farm for the evening, another 2 miles down the muddy dirt road thinking we were never going to make it and that we for sure had to be going the wrong way… But we found it and the old Volkswagon Golf didn’t even get stuck-just a little mud for character.  I was a little annoyed because there was no wifi like my reservation stayed (I always check before booking and yet half of the time they act like I’m crazy). They did have wifi but it broke last summer and they haven’t fixed itnyet. Also, no credit cards. Since this requires Internet- only cash. Somehow they received my Booking.com reservation though…so I’m confused. But…This little place had the best water pressure in all of Europe and heat that warmed up fast…so overall I was very happy with our little room. πŸ™‚ We went to sleep early again because we have to drive 4 hours across the entire island to the East coast for tomorrow’s adventures.