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About Me

Found 10 results

  1. It was another beautiful sunny day in Sicily when we woke up this morning. We had breakfast outside on a terrace slightly lower down in the same building as our apartment. As we had some time before we needed to check out, we tried to sit and read a bit in the sun. It soon got too hot though! Our plan for today was to drive from Castelbuono to the seaside town of Cefalù, which is on Sicily's northern coast. We had a beautiful drive through the mountains and then along by the sea. When we arrived, parking in Cefalù was a bit tricky, with lots of narrow streets to negotiate. It looked like a really pretty place though. We could see a fortress on the hill behind the town, but didn't fancy climbing up to it. We walked through the streets of the old town... ...getting some more great views up towards the fortress. Down one of the side streets we passed we could just get a glimpse of the sea. We passed the church of St Stefano, which looked very old... ...before arriving in a large square which is home to Cefalù's cathedral. A cathedral was first built here in 1131 by the Normans, in a fortress style. It certainly looked very big and imposing. From the cathedral we walked down more colourful little streets... ...until we got to the sea I read in the guidebook that the beach at Cefalù is one of the most popular in Sicily, because it's very sandy. It certainly looked busy today! It was lovely looking out to sea... ...and back inland towards the town. When we got to the end of the pier, we could just make out the twin towers of the cathedral in the distance. We walked back into the town in the hope of tracking down somewhere to get lunch. After so much meat yesterday, we had a vegetarian day with a margherita and four cheese pizza After lunch we had a long drive along the coast toward the B&B where we are spending the night. Because this seaside part of Sicily is so popular, I couldn't find anywhere affordable to stay along the coast at all, so had booked a place which is a few miles inland from the town of Tindari. We've got a lovely room... ...and our own terrace to sit on There are amazing views, both of the nearby vineyard... ...and of the mountains behind. We couldn't have hoped for a more beautiful place to spend our last night in Sicily
  2. My day was going to be an early write-off. We arrived at our spectaculary good apartment at about 16:30, around half an hour after finishing a colossal steak which was far more than I would normally be able to eat but the expense of which compelled me to attack. In a sweltering hot country and with a beer and some wine in me, that was a recipe for a food coma, and so I was immediately asleep as soon as the host left us. More or less. Clare wanted the photos for the blog preparing first, so I did those with my eyes partially closed and then had a cold shower. It didn't work and I was soon a curious combination of asleep and feeling sorry for myself. Clare is much more disciplined than I am and set to work on the blog. When it was finished a couple of hours later, she asked me whether I felt it was time to go out and see the town. As far as I was concerned but it wasn't fair to give her cabin fever, so I agreed to go out too. cursing myself for still being too full to be able to even consider buying some beer or wine to enjoy on our rooftop. It turned that I needn't have felt so full at all. You see, when we arrived around 2 o'clock looking for a meal, we went to the only place we'd encountered stating that it was a pizzeria/restaurant and tried to order. It wasn't open, aside from its cafe. So I asked the lady whether there were any other places open. In her opinion, that was very unlikely, although she suggested we head down the main road. That was how we found the restaurant offering our very expensive meal. It turned out all she would've had to say is 'There are about a million restaurants in the Old Town. Why don't you head there?' We didn't even know there was an Old Town until we headed down the main road this evening and went further than the restaurant we'd visited earlier! We espied a spire in the distance and so headed towards it: We saw a sign pointing out that there was an Old Town and so headed into a side street: And look what we found: a busy square! The mountains in the background were a sight to behold: It had a large clock tower: There was a small section of portici: And the church whose spire we'd glimpsed earlier: We headed down a street in the direction of the castle: There was a couple getting married: We thought we'd leave them to their privacy. Or didn't want to pay the entrance fee. Delete as applicable. And so we turned around and headed back to the square: Emerging from that direction presented us with the mountains again. We'd driven along them earlier to get to Castelbuono: And so we began the journey home, heading up a small street with an attractive tower beckoning us: Soon we passed a lovely fountain: Before we knew it we were a two-minute walk from our appartment with an ice cream store next to us, so we picked up a large mint ice cream apiece and retired to our rooftop to see the soon fade away behind the mountains: I'm really glad that we ventured out ... but can't help but feel slightly aggrieved that the lady we spoke to earlier in the day didn't tell us about the Old Town. I'd have loved to see it in proper daylight, plus we wouldn't have been compelled to eat so large a meal that we were effectively denied the chance to sit on our rooftop with a nice bottle of wine to end the evening. There's always a wineless tomorrow morning, of course, when I inevitable wake up early and need somewhere to sit whilst reading!
  3. It was another bright sunny day when we woke up this morning. From the window of our room, we had a view of Enna's main street where we'd seen the lights last night. We didn't take any photos of breakfast this morning, but it was the biggest selection we've had on this Sicily trip. A selection of cheese and meats, as well as an impressive array of cakes When we'd finished eating, we went out to see some of Enna by daylight. In one of the squares we found a viewpoint from which we could see down towards the lower town. We'd left our car somewhere down there We continued walking up through the town... ...until we got as far as the castle, which sits at its far end. This is Castello di Lombardia, which was built here in 1076. We walked around the edge of the castle, admiring the views out across the surrounding countryside. In particular, we caught sight of a large mountain in the distance. Could that possibly be Etna? As we came around the far side of the castle... ...we saw a large rock which looked like it might provide an even better viewpoint. We climbed to the top of it and wow, the view was really amazing! In one direction we could see the little medieval village of Calascibetta, perched on the top of a hill. In the other direction, we had a really clear view towards Etna. When we looked back, we could see the castle too. Meanwhile the big wide road we could see cutting across the countryside was the motorway to Palermo. We'd be driving on it a bit later (though not as far as Palermo!). Climbing down from the rock was a little bit harder than climbing up. We made it down though and got back to the B&B on time to check out at 10.30. It was really good value, at just €60 for the night. Then we just needed to walk back down the steep and narrow roads which Google Maps had made us try and drive up yesterday. We retrieved the car and set off towards our destination for tonight: Castelbuono. As we left Enna on the nice wide main road, we could see back up towards the upper town where we'd been staying. Soon we were driving far below the town. There were some beautiful views as we made our way towards the motorway. We were driving towards the hilltop town of Gangi, which became famous a few years ago when the mayor started giving away abandoned houses for a Euro (on the condition that purchasers spent lots of money restoring them). It was difficult to get a good photo from the car, but you can make Gangi out on the right of this photo. When we arrived we found that the driving was crazy, even by Sicilian standards, and it was quite difficult to park, so we only had a quick look around. It looked like it would be an interesting town but we felt too hot to climb all the way up this hill. Soon we were back on the road. To get to Castelbuono, we were driving on little roads through the Parco delle Madonie. This is a nature reserve, which is home to some of the highest mountains in Sicily. There were some amazing views as we drove, but unfortunately there weren't very many laybys or places to stop, so most of the photos are taken from a moving car. A lot of the time the landscape looked very dry and barren... ...but in other places it was greener At times Tim had to drive rather slowly because we got caught behind the local traffic It was around 2pm when we began to approach Castelbuono, which is situated to the east of the national park. We were a bit early to check into our apartment, so decided to get lunch. The only difficulty was trying to find a restaurant! We walked around the town for a while, failing to find anything, and eventually found a sign pointing towards a pizzeria. That sounded promising, but when we tracked it down the waiter told us that the pizza ovens weren't switched on yet so pizza was off the menu. That was a shame, but I was hopeful that I could have some pasta instead... until I looked at the menu and found that all the pasta dishes either involved fish or mushrooms In desperation we looked at the meat section of the menu (which was quite small compared to the fish section!) and ended up ordering a large steak to share. And when the waiter said it was large, he meant large! After we'd ordered it, it occurred to me that we hadn't been asked how we wanted it cooked ... and my worst fears were confirmed when Tim cut into it and we found that it was the opposite of well done It was actually really delicious, if you closed your eyes and tried not to think about what you were eating! By the time we had finished we were extremely full, so I was glad that we didn't have to walk too far to find our apartment. When we arrived and checked in, we found it was one of the best places we've ever stayed We've got a large living/dining room with a kitchen... ...a spacious bedroom... ...and, best of all, a roof terrace with amazing views Not bad value for €70 - it's a shame we're only staying in Castelbuono for one night!
  4. Tim

    Evening 6: Enna

    Today was such a full day that we were wiped out and didn't want to do much other than go to bed once the blog was finished. We started the day with a guided tour of three churches in Naro, had a lengthy stopover at a garage when it transpired that we were within 120km of the car breaking down, drove for a couple of hours to Villa Romana di Casale and saw perhaps 30 or 40 mosaics, drove to Enna, were sent up some very steep streets by Google Maps, which were so narrow that we eventually had to reverse because our car was too wide, so instead had to park the car elsewhere and then follow Google's indications up those same steep streets for over a kilometre with our backpacks and suitcases. Nonetheless, we hadn't actually seen anything of Enna since we got here so forced ourselves to go on a stroll. Our hotel is on Via Roma, the main street. The main street that we would've reached had Google Maps not taken us on a 'shorter' detour. From our window we could see that some lights had been switched on: We followed the lights, which soon became a second type: We soon reached a square: It overlooked the old town. You might get an idea of how narrow and steep the streets we'd been driving earlier were: We turned around and left the square: The next stretch of road featured lights in the shape of candelabra: We then reached the Duomo. Unfortunately, it's all covered up for the renovations so there wasn't any point in photographing it. On the other side of the road was a square named after and featuring a statue of Giuseppe Mazzini: Via Roma is a one-way street because there is another road running parallel to it. We walked through an archway to get to it: We're quite high up! The building in the distance is the Palazzo del Governo, so we headed down to see it: And with a quick crossing of the road, we were back in our hotel two minutes later.
  5. Tim

    Evening 5: Naro

    Clare worked hard to bring you today's blog and then after a day of 35-degree heat and accummulated sand needed a bath, so I had plenty of time to do some reading. It's a shame that I'm so slow at it though; I'm two pages from finishing so will get there before lights out! Having moved our car from its temporary location to the square recommended by our host earlier (and having conquered again the one-way system and streets which were narrower than the car), I had noticed how pretty the yellow stone looked illuminated by the streetlights and suggested to Clare that we nip out for a stroll. Just standing in the doorway, we were treated to a sight: And our street was very pretty too: After a couple of minutes, we passed our hire car: We knew we'd hit the local hub when the street became wide enough to accommodate cars in each direction. There were a couple of cafes open but I quite liked the sight of a pizzeria on the street corner because there was lots of empty space. We ordered a jug of wine and a large beer: I was feeling a little peckish so ordered a burger. The server called it a 'Luxembourger', which confused me, until I realised on the second occasion that she was saying 'deluxe hamburger'. It was big: So big, in fact, that I couldn't fit it into my mouth. It was sliding all over the place, most of it finishing on my hands and face. Fortunately the waitress had seen it all before and brought me out a stash of serviettes. There was an unfortunate moment when a freak blow of wind blew up the paper sheet she'd added as a second tablecloth, which began a chain reaction starting with an empty beer bottle toppling into a wine glass, the contents of which spilled, with the result that a poor ant which we initially believed had drowned was a few minutes later zig-zagging across the table. We chatted for a while and then I asked for the bill: 10.50€! Yet again, we'd benefitted from paying the price the locals do by speaking the language! I'm not sure it's much of financial return on the hours invested but I always love it when it happens. We then had a slow walk home, culminating in the lovely yellows on our door step: Today was a busy day with lots of road driven and a few towns stopped in. Tomorrow promises to be much easier. Because there's less on the agenda, we didn't have any qualms in accepting the offer of a post-breakfast guided tour from our host for tomorrow. Fingers crossed I'll have finished my book by then.
  6. The place we were staying in in Ragusa last night was a bed and breakfast, but we weren't entirely sure what was happening with the breakfast. When we woke up this morning, we found it had been laid out for us in the communal kitchen outside our room. It was a very sweet breakfast, featuring croissants and chocolate cake Once we'd finished stuffing ourselves, we went out for a walk to see Ragusa in the morning sunshine. The view towards Ragusa Superiore was much better in this light We walked along the narrow street towards the cathedral again. The cathedral looked beautiful with the blue sky behind it. We hadn't realised when we booked to stay in Ragusa that some of the Montalbano TV series is filmed here. We found one of the views from the show, but I don't think I can quite pull off Montalbano's look We had time before we checked out to walk a bit further through the town, towards the gardens. We passed Ragusa's other church, San Giuseppe. It was already another hot day, so it was nice to get under the shade of the palm trees for a bit... ...and enjoy the views out across the countryside again Then it was back up through the town for a final look at the cathedral before setting off towards our next destination. The main place we were visiting today was Agrigento, but as that was over a two hour drive away from Ragusa, we were planning to break our journey in a seaside town called Licata. As we set off in the car, we had a good view up towards Ragusa Superiore. As you can see in this photo, we managed to get stuck in a queue behind Ragusa's tourist train, so we ended up having longer than expected to admire the view It took about two hours to get to Licata in the end and there wasn't much of a view of the sea because there was a port in the way, but it turned out to have a pretty old town. We walked through some gardens... ...where I found an impressively large cactus... ...and then we caught sight of the town's main church in the distance. The church had a beautiful dome, although like everything in Licata it looked a bit faded. Once we were at the church we weren't far from the main street. We had a view from there up towards the castle above the town. We came to a square, with what I assume must have been the town hall. As we'd been walking around we'd been looking for a restaurant to get lunch, but failing to find anything more than a cafe that was open. We eventually found a place just past the town hall, where the waitress told us that they were the only restaurant open in Licata today. We'd just started looking at the menu when she reappeared to say that there was a smell of gas in the kitchen and so they were only able to offer a handful of items on the menu. Luckily this included pizza, so we were fine They didn't have much on offer in the way of pudding, only something called "semifreddo" which we didn't really understand what it was. Tim decided to be brave and order one anyway; it turned out to be a bit like ice-cream, but not quite. As we were walking back to the car after lunch, I caught sight of a thermometer on a pharmacy which confirmed that it really was very hot! From Licata, we continued onwards towards Agrigento, which was another half an hour or so drive. We didn't actually want to visit the town of Agrigento itself, which according to the guidebook isn't terribly attractive, but an archeaological site outside of the town called Valle dei Templi. Although the name suggests a valley of temples, we soon discovered it's actually more of a hill with temples on it After paying €12 each to get in, we climbed a sandy path uphill and soon got our first view of (part of!) a temple. There were originally seven temples at the site, which were constructed by the Greeks in the fifth and sixth centuries BC. Today they are some of the best preserved examples of ancient Greek architecture outside of Greece, although not all of them are still intact. We followed the path past several ruins, with views in the distance towards the modern town of Agrigento. After a while we came to the remains of the temple of Heracles. This one is believed to have been built in the sixth century BC. From there the path proceeded steeply uphill towards the best preserved temple. This is the temple of Concordia. As we got closer we could see how absolutely enormous it is. Here's a picture with me for scale In the distance we could just make out the tantalising remains of another temple, the temple of Juno. Unfortunately it looked like a bit of a trek and we didn't really have time because we'd arranged to be let into our accommodation at 5pm. We turned around and began our walk back down to the car park. I'd definitely like to come back here one day and explore further, although maybe in October when it might not be 35 degrees! As we started driving back onto the main road, we got a final view of the temples Because the guidebook wasn't very complimentary about Agrigento, we're staying overnight in a nearby town called Naro. It took us about 20 minutes to drive there and another 10 minutes to drive around very narrow streets trying to find our apartment! We found it in the end and it's nice and comfortable inside There's a cosy area with a table/chairs and a fridge... ...which then leads into a bedroom that features a bunk bed as well as a double bed. It's got great air con and the wi-fi is working okay. The lady who owns it was very friendly and gave us a bowl of cherry-flavoured granita to cool us down, which was a really lovely surprise We seem to be right next door to the local church and have already heard the bells ringing a couple of times. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they don't start ringing really early tomorrow morning
  7. Today it was time for us to leave Catania behind, picking up our hire car and exploring some more remote bits of Sicily. We'd booked to pick the hire car up from the airport, mostly because it will be convenient to be able to return it to there at the end of the week, and so we set off to catch the airport bus back there this morning. We'd realised when walking outside our apartment the other day that the airport bus actually has two stops on our road, so the good news was that we didn't have to walk all the way to the station to catch it. The bus wasn't as busy as it had been on Saturday morning and we had a relatively pleasant journey, arriving at the airport just before 10am. 10am was the time we had booked to pick up our hire car, so I expected that we'd just be able to walk in, show the documentation and drive off. Every time we've hired a car previously it's taken about 10 - 15 minutes to sort out the formalities. It turns out hiring a car in Catania takes a lot longer When we got to the hire counter we found we had to take a ticket to wait to be served. We got number 83 and they were currently on 72. I've got no idea why, but dealing with each person seemed to take an extremely long time and we stood there for what felt like forever while the numbers edged slowly forward. Some people must have either given up or taken several tickets, because a couple of times they'd call a number and there would be no one there, so we were able to skip forward a bit. In the end we stood there for over an hour and it was after 11am by the time Tim finally had the hire contract. When I was researching hire cars in Sicily prior to the trip, they all seemed like quite good value but the thing which really made us nervous was the level of the excess which the rental companies wanted to hold on our credit card. I think the most we've had before was €800 in the Azores, but it seems that hire companies in Sicily routinely ask for €1,200 and sometimes even €1,500. Because Sicily felt like it had the potential to be a challenging location in which to drive, we ended up taking out a separate insurance policy which we can claim on if we end up having to pay any of the excess to the hire company. That added on to the overall cost, but gives us a bit more piece of mind. When we eventually located the place to pick up our car from and got the keys, it turned out that we'd been given a Polo; a bigger car than I had expected! The rental desk was so chaotic that we definitely weren't going to go back and question it There was plenty of space in the boot for our suitcases and soon we were on our way, only about 90 minutes later than I'd expected. Our first stop of the trip was a place called Cava Grande del Fiume Cassibile, which our guidebook had described as being like the Sicilian version of the Grand Canyon. It was included in the list of the top 18 things to see in Sicily at the front of the guidebook, so I'd deliberately worked it into our itinerary for today. When we got there, we ended up being a bit underwhelmed by it. There was indeed a canyon, but because the weather is so hot and dry there wasn't very much water to see. We could just about make it out if we zoomed in Luckily the canyon hadn't been too great a diversion, because it was only a few miles outside the town of Noto, which is where we were heading next. Noto has existed since Roman times, but the original town was destroyed during the Sicilian earthquake of 1693. The town was rebuilt, but in a completely different location about 8km from its original site. Today Noto is one of the best examples of Sicilian Baroque architecture and a World Heritage Site. The most impressive building is undoubtedly Noto's cathedral. The construction of the cathedral was completed in 1776 but part of the building, including the dome, collapsed in 1996 and had to be rebuilt, opening again in 2007. You wouldn't be able to tell that by looking at it today We walked around Noto for a while, admiring the views. We stopped to have lunch at a restaurant under some shady trees. We both had penne with ragu which was really nice, but not the largest portion in the world, so we ended up ordering pudding as well There was a bit more of Noto to see before heading back to the car to travel onwards to our ultimate destination of the day: Ragusa. Ragusa is located about 30 miles inland from Noto, so it wasn't the longest drive in the world. What did take us a while was trying to track down our B&B once we'd arrived! We did several circuits around the old town before I got out of the car and tracked it down on foot. It turned out to be exactly where Google had said it would be, but the sign was very small Our room is in a B&B in Ragusa Ibla. In what seems like a familiar theme, most of Ragusa was destroyed in the 1693 earthquake and a new town, called Ragusa Superiore, was built higher up the hill. The original town, Ragusa Ibla, was also eventually reconstructed, and when I was researching places to stay this definitely seemed like the most scenic location. Once we'd settled into our room, we went out to explore. The sun was in the wrong location to take good photos, but we could see Ragusa Superiore in the distance. We soon got a good view of the Duomo of San Giorgio. We'd already driven down this narrow road and seen it once when we were looking for our B&B! We came around the side of the cathedral into a square. Again, the sun wasn't in the best possible position, but from the end of the square we could look back towards the cathedral. Further on we found another beautiful church too We walked towards the edge of the town where I'd read that there were some gardens. Sure enough we found them and walked down a beautiful alley lined with palm trees. From the far edge of the gardens we had views out over the surrounding countryside... ...in several directions We'd walked as far as we could now, so we turned around and set off back towards the B&B to make a start on the blog
  8. Our plan for today was to take a daytrip to the town of Siracusa, located about 40 miles south of Catania. There is a regional train service connecting the two towns, but the trains don't run very often. We had a choice between 08.45 and 10.45 this morning, so decided to have a leisurely start to the day and take the 10.45. We left our apartment around 10am and walked towards Catania's main train station. It was already baking hot, even in the shade. We got to the train station with plenty of time to spare and bought our tickets from the machine. As ever in Italy, the regional trains are really cheap and the trip to Siracusa - which takes just over an hour - only cost €6.90 each. It turned out that we needn't have hurried to the train station because every single train on the departures board was delayed, including our own, which was due to arrive on platform 1. When we stepped out onto platform 1 I was surprised to see how busy it was, only to later realise that most of the people were waiting for a train to Rome... which was delayed by an hour and 50 minutes We were quite lucky in comparison that our train was only advertised as having a 10 minute delay, although that was gradually extended to 15 minutes and then 20. We had a change of platform, to accommodate a train from Messina which was also delayed, and eventually, around 11.10, our train finally appeared. Hooray! There was no attempt to make up for lost time, as the train sat in the station for a bit and then made other, seemingly random, prolonged stops along the way. The journey took us through some countryside, then along a bit of coastline which seemed quite industrial, before finally arriving in Siracusa around 12.30. Better later than never I guess! Siracusa, also known as Syracuse, is famous for having been an important Greek city in ancient times and was the birthplace of Greek mathematician Archimedes. Most of the sights of the town are located on the island of Ortigia where Greeks from Corinth originally founded the city. Today the city has spread out onto the mainland, which is where the train station is located, so we needed to walk from there to Ortigia. There weren't many helpful signs to follow, but we knew we were on the right track when we came to a bridge across a small body of water. On the far side of the water, we came to the ruins of the Temple of Apollo. The temple is believed to have been built by the Greeks in the sixth century BC. We walked through a pretty square with a fountain... ...and then began to make our way through the narrow streets of the old town. It was a really beautiful town We soon came to a huge square... ...which is home to Siracusa's cathedral. The cathedral was built on the site of a Greek temple to Athena, originally in the 7th century, but significantly rebuilt after Sicily's big earthquake in 1693. From the cathedral it wasn't far to the edge of the island. The beach looked incredibly stony, but there were still a fair few people sunbathing on it. The water was beautifully clear... ...and we had some great views, both of the town and out to sea. We found a lovely walkway to follow along by the coast. Once again we found some really pretty flowers, which seemed to be flourishing despite how hot the weather was. After a while we came to a little park which provided some welcome shade. It was home to some enormous trees, which looked very old. By this point we'd managed to do a circuit of the island and were back at the bridge where we'd started. We headed back into the old town, now on the lookout for a place where we could get a late lunch. After a bit of walking we eventually found a place with scenic views out over the sea. We had some delicious pizza... ...followed by an americano, which came like this: an espresso, with hot water to dilute it After lunch we walked back along the coast... ...crossing back over the bridge towards the newer part of town. Our regional train back was supposed to be just after 4pm but guess what, it was delayed! It actually set off more or less on time, but after a few unexplained stops somehow still managed to arrive in Catania over half an hour late It was also incredibly hot and sticky, which made me glad that we're not relying on public transport for the entire holiday. Tomorrow we will be picking up our hire car and leaving Catania behind, heading towards the town of Ragusa.
  9. After a good ten hours of sleep, we felt a lot more energised this morning than we did last night Our plan for today was to visit a town called Taormina, which is located about 30 miles north of Catania. While you can take a train directly to Taormina from Catania, it's not a very good idea; the station is at sea level, but Taormina itself is a hilltop town situated around 200 metres above that. Our plan was therefore to travel by bus, which takes just over an hour and costs €8.50 return. The guidebook had warned that the bus station was a bit confusing, and indeed it was. The ticket office isn't located within the bus station itself but on a separate street around the corner, which is a bit odd. Tim got directions from a taxi driver and we found it in the end, just on time to catch the 10am bus. Sadly, the 10am bus itself wasn't on time. We waited in the bus station while numerous other buses came and went and an increasingly large horde of people began to congregate, all of whom seemingly also wanted to go to Taormina. It was around 10.25 by the time it eventually showed up and we managed to battle our way on to get seats. The delay setting off, combined with traffic on the way, meant that it was getting close to midday by the time we got off the bus in Taormina. The bus station seemed to be on the outskirts of the town and there were no obvious signs pointing to the town centre, so we walked uphill in what we hoped was the correct general direction, and soon had this confirmed when we arrived outside what looked like an old town gate. We passed through the gate and onto a narrow street. As you can see, it was quite busy. The main attraction in Taormina is an ancient theatre, so we started following signs towards that. As we got closer, we walked down a street with the most amazing purple flowers. They looked like some sort of creeper. Whatever they were they had completely taken over the trees they were growing on. It costs €10 each to go into the theatre, which I'd included in my holiday budget, only to forget to add the extra money to the pile which we were taking out today. I was just lamenting this fact when we walked through the entrance of the theatre and found that it was free to get in today Not sure whether it was because it was a Sunday (or maybe because it was the first Sunday of the month?) but it was very good timing The theatre is slightly confusingly described as being Greek, although it's actually Roman Apparently the style and plan of it is Greek, but the fact that it's mostly built of brick means that it's Roman in origin, although it may have been built by the Romans on the foundations of an older Greek theatre. It was really huge anyway As we climbed higher up around it we had some brilliant views of Mount Etna in the distance... ...and of the sea We came around the corner to another view point, where we could see down towards a coastline that looked quite rocky. This way we were looking northwards rather than south towards Etna. We were level with the top of the theatre now and walking around the outer edge. From here you could really appreciate how enormous the theatre was. And how enormous Etna is! The theatre was so high that I was too scared to walk around the top steps (it was quite a steep drop!!), but Tim did and took some photos of the amazing views From here we could also see what seemed to be a castle on one of the hills above Taormina, but it was far too hot today to consider exploring it any further. Instead, we climbed back down to the bottom of the theatre... ...went back past the purple flowers... ...and started to explore the town a bit more. In the distance we soon caught sight of a clock tower. This was located in Piazza IX Aprile, which is Taormina's main square. It was a lovely square, with views down towards the sea... ...and trees with beautiful pink flowers. Given how hot and dry Sicily is, the flowers are really exceeding my expectations! We continued further along the main street... ...before emerging in another square. This was Piazza Duomo. The church is Taormina's cathedral, originally built in the thirteenth century but reconstructed several times since then. We found a restaurant by the side of the square where the prices seemed surprisingly reasonable and sat down for our first proper Italian meal of the holiday We both had pizza diavola, which was absolutely beautiful, and some local wine. Then it was back through the town, in the direction of the bus station. We took a diversion to some signposted gardens, which were free to enter. They were really beautiful We had views up towards the castle on the hill above the town... ...as well as down towards the sea... ...and we could still see Etna looming in the distance. There were some pretty amazing cactuses too We got to the bus station on time to elbow our way onto the 15.45 bus and were soon on our way back towards Catania. So far Sicily has been amazing
  10. We have booked a fair few early flights over the years, but I think today's may be one of the earliest ever: 06.20 from Gatwick. Once we worked it backwards, this meant airport parking was booked for 4am and, as the drive to Gatwick takes 2.5 hours even in optimal conditions, this required leaving home at 01.30. It was a painful feeling last night when we set our alarms for 1am... and I have to confess that when mine went off, I gave serious consideration to just going back to sleep and not going on holiday at all I did drag myself out of bed in the end though, and we set off to Gatwick in the darkness. The journey went well until we realised that the M1 was completely closed for overnight roadworks between two junctions, which necessitated us following a somewhat long and torturous diversion. That added a bit on to the journey time, so it was closer to 04.15 when we ultimately arrived at our airport parking. Tim had booked the cheapest possible parking, which turned out to be at a hotel in the general vicinity of Gatwick. We had to pay an additional £3 each per direction for the privilege of using the airport shuttle, which was a little bit unusual, but otherwise it was fine and we got to the airport more quickly that I expected. Our destination for the coming week is Sicily and today we were flying to Catania with Norwegian. Check-in was extremely efficient, as was security, and by 5am we were sitting in the airport Wetherspoons eating breakfast It felt a bit weird to me to be flying with Norwegian to a sunny destination, as it's an airline we've only ever used in the past for flying to cold places (Norway and Finland), but the planes are more spacious than most budget airlines and we had a nice flight. After such an early start I fell asleep pretty much during take off and only woke up again once we were over the Alps. From there the plane flew down the coast of Italy but we were on the wrong side of the aircraft to see anything except for a lot of sea! It was around 09.30 when we caught our first glimpse of the coast of Sicily. Catania is on the eastern coast of Sicily, and so we flew across the middle of the island as we came into land. We will be exploring some of the interior of the island later this week with the help of a rental car. First impressions are that it doesn't look very green! Ironically for a day when we weren't in a rush to be anywhere, our plane landed slightly ahead of schedule. As we taxied towards the terminal building, I got my first view of Mt Etna. Any time which we gained on the flight, we lost again while waiting for our bags to be unloaded from the plane Eventually they arrived though and we stepped outside into the baking heat to track down our airport bus. Catania airport is only a few kilometres outside of the city centre and there's a regular bus service to the main train station, which costs €4 each. Unfortunately it was one of those airport buses which isn't really designed either for large volumes of people or for transporting luggage, with the result that it was rather full and we had to stand. The journey into Catania was fairly short though, and within 20 minutes we were disembarking outside the train station. The apartment we are staying in for the next three nights is located about a mile away from the station and I had booked it mainly on the basis that it was possible to check in at midday. That still gave us a bit of time to kill, so we took a slow walk in the general direction, stopping for an ice-cream when we were in danger of arriving too early. We've got a lot of different accommodation booked for this trip so I couldn't really remember what this place was like, but it turned out to be quite spacious We've got a large bedroom... ...which has a little balcony overlooking the street... ...and a nice kitchen/dining room. It's worked out as a about £48/night which seems like good value, especially as it's quite centrally located I was in definite need of a nap by this stage, so it was several hours later before we headed out to explore Catania. The guidebook wasn't terribly complimentary, describing "a traffic-choked city centre" "largely constructed from suffocating black-grey volcanic stone". While there were some dark-stone buildings, first impressions were that it was a much prettier city than the guidebook had given it credit for. Our apartment was a short walk away from the church of St Francis of Assisi. Not far from there is Catania's cathedral, which is dedicated to St Agatha. The cathedral is situated in a beautiful square... ...which is home to a rather unusual monument featuring an elephant. Elephants have historically been a symbol of Catania and in ancient times, the locals apparently venerated a statue of an elephant which was said to have the magical power of being able to predict when Mount Etna was going to erupt. Today's elephant statue is made from lava stone and was erected after a serious earthquake in 1693 which destroyed much of the city. We strolled through various squares in the city centre, trying to stick to the shade to avoid the baking heat. It was well over 30 degrees in the sunshine. It was about 4pm by this point which meant that we'd napped through the Italian restaurants' definition of lunchtime, and the owner of our apartment had given us the impression that 8pm might be an early time to try and get dinner. We hadn't eaten since Gatwick and I was absolutely starving by this point, so we did something we're not proud of and followed signs to McDonalds from one of the central squares. We have tried and failed before to get proper food in southern Italy outside of official meal times, most notably in Campobasso, and come to the conclusion that it just isn't possible, so McDonalds was an opportunity not to be missed McDonalds was actually not far away from a square where there were supposed to be some Roman remains. We weren't initially blown away by them... ...but later realised that if we walked to the opposite side of the square, there were more obvious remains of a theatre on display. The owner of our apartment had recommended that we walk down a road called Via Crociferi, which he said had some of the best examples of baroque architecture in Catania, so we set out to try and find it. It turned out to be a street completely dominated by churches... ...many of which were so big that we couldn't get far enough back from them to take decent photos. It was really beautiful though And overall Catania definitely seems more attractive than the guidebook led us to believe I was expecting to find the same level of chaos as in Naples, but so far it seems comparatively calm (and the streets aren't full of uncollected rubbish, which is a huge improvement over Naples!) We were feeling tired again by this point so went to the supermarket to pick up some food for tonight and then headed back to the apartment for an early night. (The photo below is our apartment building. It's a lot nicer inside than it looks from the outside ) So far first impressions of Sicily are good and we're looking forward to exploring more tomorrow
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