October 14, 2019 Taormina IT

Taormina was on Ton’s must see list today.   I made a scouting run down to the terminal to discover the best way to Taormina.  Option 1 was a hop on hop off bus that gave us use of the tourist bus and the regular bus for €14 each or take a regular bus for €3.  We were torn about what to do, and still had not made up our mind when we got to the terminal.  We finally chose the regular bus, but after we bought the ticket the cashier who must have heard our debate, asked the Hop on Hop off bus driver to let us ride to Taormina, so we ended up with the best of both worlds.  This good samaritan was the same guy who had rebuffed my earlier attempt to ask him about the bus to Taormina in Italian, with a gruff “What do you want?” in English.  

Taormina is the town between the two high points of land.

Taormina has been a town since the ancient Greeks, and it is really a spectacular site on a large bluff overlooking the harbor at Giardini-Naxos.  We were dropped off at a nondescript bus terminal, but as soon as we began hiking up the road to the town the views were spectacular.  As we got closer to the town center we both became more charmed.  Despite the fact that Taormina is definitely on the tourist trail, complete with all of the brand name stores lining its main street, it still had a spirit that we both really enjoyed.  

The main road in Taormina lined with big brand shops, but still beautiful.

The town meanders up and down hill.  The main road is wide and flat, but all of the roads off of it are either up or down and quite narrow, which adds to the atmosphere.  Off of the main road the shops were run by locals who were very friendly without being pushy.  Ton had picked out two potential restaurants for lunch, but one had gone out of business, and the other was not open.  Just down the street was a cheese store that advertised lunch and we were both drawn to it.  We went inside to take a look and saw a restaurant in the back.  We asked the lady at the counter if they served lunch and she said yes in an hour, would we like a reservation.  Something I have learned is that in romance languages my short name “Ron” (in Spanish it means Rum) is perplexing, so when she acted confused about my name I switched it to Ronaldo, she immediately connected the dots and had a good laugh with one of the customers.

Typical side “road” in Taormina.

Having an hour to kill we decided to head up to the Greek Theater which is the big attraction in town.  When we got there it was €10 to get in, and since we have seen a lot of antiquity sites on this trip decided to pass.  We still had time to kill so we went to the municipal park and sat down on a park bench to enjoy the views.

The view from our park bench in Taormina.

The lunch at the cheese shop was superb.  We opted for a Sicilian food and wine tasting.  It consisted of three wines, and a plate of cheeses, meats, and grilled vegetables.  We have had a lot of good meals on our trips in Europe, but we both agreed that so far this is the best.  The food and wine while simple was fresh and delicious.  The service of the husband and wife was great and they enjoyed explaining the food and wine to us.  They were clearly proud of their Sicilian heritage and happy to share it with us.  At the end neither of us could bring ourselves to leave so we stalled with a coffee, and an aperitif.  Ton was tempted to return for dinner, but they were full, though we could tell if we pushed and had some flexibility they would have found a way to accommodate us.  We rarely mention places by name but if you are ever in town do not miss La Bottega Del Formaggio.

I really enjoyed this meal much more than my expression shows!

October 13, 2019 Giardini-Naxos IT

Today was a maintenance day mostly.  We woke early as we wanted to drive to the US Navy base at Sigonella to take care of laundry and shopping.  We covered about 150km’s to the base, and the traffic was Sunday light.  Large sections of the freeway we traveled on were under construction or heavy maintenance, and we got a little turned around for awhile, but recovered without too much trouble.

Arriving at the Navy Base we were not sure what the procedure would be to gain access.  In Spain it was pretty complicated, in Germany it was as easy as the US, and here it was easy also.  In Germany and Spain there were limits on what facilities we could use, but here in Italy we could use everything.  All of the chores were taken care of mid-afternoon.  Our original plan was to stay somewhere close to the Navy base, but the pickings were slim.

As we were driving down the coast we realized Mount Etna, was having a minor eruption.  It turns out it has been putting out ash clouds now for a few days, and it was strong enough on Wednesday that they had to close the main airport for Sicily.

Mt. Etna is having a small eruption, it is venting in two places.

Our plan for tomorrow is to visit a town called Taormina, so as it was early I decided we would head there.  It was a short hop up the coast on the freeway, which for the last 20km’s turned into a tollway.  I was a little distracted as we came to our exit and blew right by it, so we had to go up one extra exit.  At the exit as we pulled into the toll booth I noticed everyone was paying with cash.  We panicked as our smallest bill was a €20.  The machine coughed up €18 in change with no problems.

Greta Garmin sent us up a national road, but it turned into a driving test as the road was a beautiful seaside road but quite twisty, and with cars parked fairly randomly in one or sometimes both lanes it was a tight squeeze at a couple of points.  The good news though was we realized that the Sosta (Italian for Aire) we are using tonight is located quite close to the ocean.  If we had taken the right exit we would never have known that.

This is the road you end up on when you miss your exit on the freeway.

After an early dinner Ton proposed we walk on into the town.  Giardini-Naxos is a postcard beautiful Mediterranean fishing port town, with incredible views.  There was a cruise ship in port, and as the sun set the harvest full moon was rising over the ocean.  The walk around the port was pretty romantic.  It was a fantastic end to a day that we had low expectations for, and all because I missed an exit on the freeway.

The harbor of Giardini-Naxos with Mt. Etna in the background.
This view is the reward for missing the exit and squeezing thru town.
Ton loves fishing ports, because the views are pretty, and the food is great.

October 12, 2019 Agrigento IT

We finally have a plan for Sicily and it was time to move on from Marsala.  It was a short drive to Agrigento for our first stop.

We spent the last two days trying to figure out what these little tubs were for.  We finally asked and they are for washing your feet, of course!

We had heard a lot about the poor quality of Italian roads and particularly those on Sicily.  The road today was on the whole good, the only problem was I spent the whole trip more or less not knowing what the speed limit was.  The road was controlled access most of the way and while it was only two lanes there was very little cross traffic.  But the speed limit was a total mystery, sometimes really good stretches were posted at 50kmh, some other stretches were posted at 70, and once in a while we would see a short stretch of 90.  Near the end just to add some variety there was an 8 or 10 km stretch posted at 60.  The problem was there was no rhyme or reason to the speeds, and the Italians around here are pretty stingy with signs.  The Garmin was no help as it seemed to have a different opinion than me and was also frequently different than the signs.  You cannot judge by the local drivers as they bomb along at any speed they feel comfortable with, but they know where the speed cameras are.  I think it will be a miracle if I do not end up with a ticket somewhere along the line, if I did not get one today, even though I was one of the slowest cars on the road.

The view of the Sicilian countryside from our trip today.

The purpose of todays trip was to visit the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento.  The area around here has been an urban site since the Greeks and there is a large area with different versions of mostly Greek temples, with an area of Roman development thrown into the mix.  Ton and I counted 8 different temple sites, but we may have missed a couple.  The entire Valley is about one and a half miles, and is one of the most extensive archeological sites I have seen.

Part of the remains of the Temple to Hercules.

The highlight of the valley is the Parthenon like Temple of Concorde which dominates the valley.  Originally built by the Greeks 2500 years ago it has been repurposed over time as Carthaginian, Roman, and Christian Temples/Churches which is why it has survived in such good shape.  Many people say it is in better shape than the Parthenon in Athens.

The Temple of Concordia.
Another view of the Temple of Concordia, with a broken statue of Icarus in front.

The Valley of Temples is one of the most impressive World Heritage Sites we have visited.  For me it was pretty awe inspiring.

The Temple of Juno.

October 11, 2019 Marsala IT

Our first full day in Italy was a treat.  We were still a little unsettled about our plans for Sicily when we woke up.  Marsala is famous for a type of fortified wine and while I was sleeping Ton found a place where we could have a tour.  So while I was making coffee she proposed we spend the day here and take the tour.  The winery was too far away to walk to, and it required reservations so we had to find out if we could get in and arrange for a taxi to take us there.  I went up to the office and asked if they could arrange a taxi, and call the winery for us as we do not have a sim card for Italy in our phone.  The owner of the campground said he would take us and the winery could accommodate us at 10am.  Since it was already 9:15, I ran back to tell Ton to get ready as we needed to leave in 20 minutes.  Giacomo the owner of the campground  ran off to change into better clothes and also to quickly give the van from the campground a wash.  We arrived at Florio winery with 10 minutes to spare.

Our breakfast today, not healthy but delicious.

Florio Winery was founded in the early 1800’s to produce Marsala.  It was the first Marsala Wine producer to be owned by Italians as prior to that the fortified wine industry in Marsala was dominated by English.  The Florio family went on to become quite a conglomerate including wine, shipping, agriculture, and light industry.  At one time they were by far the richest family on Sicily.  They also made their mark by providing some of the original assistance to Garibaldi as he began his campaign to unite Italy into one country.  Like many family dynasties the first generation makes all of the money, the second generation maintains the fortune, and the third generation squanders it all.  The third generation of the Florio’s ended up selling off the winery to raise cash to pay for their extravagant lifestyle.

A 700 liter wine cask built for an exhibition in San Francisco in 1915.  It is still in use today for production of cooking wine.

After we completed the wine tasting we followed the harbor to the old town.  Things are scruffier in Sicily, but very charming.  We enjoyed walking around town looking at the sites when we realized that our breakfast had been fortified wine.  We found a nice restaurant near Garibaldi square.  The food was outstanding, and the service was really outstanding. The waiter was a young guy who may have been the son of the owner, and if not acted like he was.  At the end  we asked for coffee and when we commented on how much we liked it he lit up and told us it was a local coffee and talked us thru the beans and roasting process with great passion.

The Garibaldi Gate near the point where Garibaldi landed with his initial 100 supporters in his successful campaign to unify Italy.

We arranged for Giacomo to pick us up at a local grocery store.  After delivering us to François I saw him sitting in a chair near the office having a beer and struck up a conversation.  It turns out between driving us to town and picking us up he had spent the day harvesting the olives from the trees around the campground.  Talking to him it turns out he had retired from the Italian Army after 20 years and returned home to Marsala to open the campground on part of his fathers farm.  He took us around the campground showing us the different plants and herbs he had planted around the campground.  It was a treat to spend some time with him.

Some of the olives harvested by Giacomo the owner of the campground we are staying in.

October 10, 2019 Marsala IT

Our ferry ride was relatively uneventful though it was 23 hours instead of the advertised 19 hours.  We never found out what caused the extra 4 hours of time but we suspect that it was due to the cruise ship we passed leaving port as we pulled in.  As a result we put our trip to the grocery aside and headed straight to our campground.

The port of Trapani Italy as we pulled in on the ferry.

Once we off loaded we had a 30 kilometer introduction to Italian driving.  Up until now we had been driving in countries that on the whole behaved like American drivers when faced with decisions.  No passing zones mean you do not pass, stop signs are meant to be stopped at, and no parking means no parking.  My initial feeling is that driving here is a lot like driving in Mexico.  People are relatively predictable but you have to know the unwritten rules as well as the written rules, and expect a little more aggressive driving.  Hopefully we will adapt pretty quick.  As we were driving up to the campground Ton said that Sicily reminded her of Thailand, which is mostly good.  Tomorrow will be our introduction to Italy as visitors.

This area is famous for salt production.  We passed several of these salt works on the way to the campground.

October 14, 2019 Taormina IT

Taormina was on Ton’s must see list today.   I made a scouting run down to the terminal to discover the best way to Taormina.  Option 1 was a hop on hop off bus that gave us use of the tourist bus and the regular bus for €14 each or take a regular bus for €3.  We were torn about what to do, and still had not made up our mind when we got to the terminal.  We finally chose the regular bus, but after we bought the ticket the cashier who must have heard our debate, asked the Hop on Hop off bus driver to let us ride to Taormina, so we ended up with the best of both worlds.  This good samaritan was the same guy who had rebuffed my earlier attempt to ask him about the bus to Taormina in halting Italian, with a gruff “What do you want?” in English.  

Taormina is the town between the two high points of land.

Taormina has been a town since the ancient Greeks, and it is really a spectacular site on a large bluff overlooking the harbor at Giardini-Naxos.  We were dropped off at a nondescript bus terminal, but as soon as we began hiking up the road to the town the views were spectacular.  As we got closer to the town center we both became more charmed.  Despite the fact that Taormina is definitely on the tourist trail, complete with all of the brand name stores lining its main street, it still had a spirit that we both really enjoyed.  

The main road in Taormina lined with big brand shops, but still beautiful.

The town meanders up and down hill.  The main road is wide and flat, but all of the roads off of it are either up or down and quite narrow, which adds to the atmosphere.  Off of the main road the shops were run by locals who were very friendly without being pushy.  Ton had picked out two potential restaurants for lunch, but one had gone out of business, and the other was not open.  Just down the street was a cheese store that advertised lunch and we were both drawn to it.  We went inside to take a look and saw a restaurant in the back.  We asked the lady at the counter if they served lunch and she said yes in an hour, would we like a reservation.  Something I have learned is that in romance languages my short name “Ron” is perplexing, so when she acted confused about my name I switched it to Ronaldo, she immediately connected the dots and had a good laugh with one of the customers.

Typical side “road” in Taormina.

Having an hour to kill we decided to head up to the Greek Theater which is the big attraction in town.  When we got there it was €10 to get in, and since we have seen a lot of antiquity sites on this trip decided to pass.  We still had time to kill so we went to the municipal park and sat down on a park bench to enjoy the views.

The view from our park bench in Taormina.

The lunch at the cheese shop was superb.  We opted for a Sicilian food and wine tasting.  It consisted of three wines, and a plate of cheeses, meats, and grilled vegetables.  We have had a lot of good meals on our trips in Europe, but we both agreed that so far this is the best.  The food and wine while simple was fresh and delicious.  The service of the husband and wife was great and they enjoyed explaining the food and wine to us.  They were clearly proud of their Sicilian heritage and happy to share it with us.  At the end neither of us could bring ourselves to leave so we stalled with a coffee, and an aperitif.  Ton was tempted to return for dinner, but they were full, though we could tell if we pushed and had some flexibility they would have found a way to accommodate us.  We rarely mention places by name but if you are ever in town do not miss La Bottega Del Formaggio.

I really enjoyed this meal much more than my expression shows!

October 13, 2019 Giardini-Naxos IT

Today was a maintenance day mostly.  We woke early as we wanted to drive to the US Navy base at Sigonella to take care of laundry and shopping.  We covered about 150km’s to the base, and the traffic was Sunday light.  Large sections of the freeway we traveled on were under construction or heavy maintenance, and we got a little turned around for awhile, but recovered without too much trouble.

Arriving at the Navy Base we were not sure what the procedure would be to gain access.  In Spain it was pretty complicated, in Germany it was as easy as the US, and here it was easy also.  In Germany and Spain there were limits on what facilities we could use, but here in Italy we could use everything.  All of the chores were taken care of mid-afternoon.  Our original plan was to stay somewhere close to the Navy base, but the pickings were slim.

As we were driving down the coast we realized Mount Etna, was having a minor eruption.  It turns out it has been putting out ash clouds now for a few days, and it was strong enough on Wednesday that they had to close the main airport for Sicily.

Mt. Etna is having a small eruption, it is venting in two places.

Our plan for tomorrow is to visit a town called Taormina, so as it was early I decided we would head there.  It was a short hop up the coast on the freeway, which for the last 20km’s turned into a tollway.  I was a little distracted as we came to our exit and blew right by it, so we had to go up one extra exit.  At the exit as we pulled into the toll booth I noticed everyone was paying with cash.  We panicked as our smallest bill was a €20.  The machine coughed up €18 in change with no problems.

Greta Garmin sent us up a national road, but it turned into a driving test as the road was a beautiful seaside road but quite twisty, and with cars parked fairly randomly in one or sometimes both lanes it was a tight squeeze at a couple of points.  The good news though was we realized that the Sosta (Italian for Aire) we are using tonight is located quite close to the ocean.  If we had taken the right exit we would never have known that.

This is the road you end up on when you miss your exit on the freeway.

After an early dinner Ton proposed we walk on into the town.  Giardini-Naxos is a postcard beautiful Mediterranean fishing port town, with incredible views.  There was a cruise ship in port, and as the sun set the harvest full moon was rising over the ocean.  The walk around the port was pretty romantic.  It was a fantastic end to a day that we had low expectations for, and all because I missed an exit on the freeway.

The harbor of Giardini-Naxos with Mt. Etna in the background.
This view is the reward for missing the exit and squeezing thru town.
Ton loves fishing ports, because the views are pretty, and the food is great.

October 12, 2019 Agrigento IT

We finally have a plan for Sicily and it was time to move on from Marsala.  It was a short drive to Agrigento for our first stop.

We spent the last two days trying to figure out what these little tubs were for.  We finally asked and they are for washing your feet, of course!

We had heard a lot about the poor quality of Italian roads and particularly those on Sicily.  The road today was on the whole good, the only problem was I spent the whole trip more or less not knowing what the speed limit was.  The road was controlled access most of the way and while it was only two lanes there was very little cross traffic.  But the speed limit was a total mystery, sometimes really good stretches were posted at 50kmh, some other stretches were posted at 70, and once in a while we would see a short stretch of 90.  Near the end just to add some variety there was an 8 or 10 km stretch posted at 60.  The problem was there was either no rhyme or reason to the speeds, and the Italians around here are pretty stingy with signs.  The Garmin was no help as it seemed to have a different opinion than me and was also frequently different than the signs.  You cannot judge by the local drivers as they bomb along at any speed they feel comfortable with, but they know where the speed cameras are.  I think it will be a miracle if I do not end up with a ticket somewhere along the line, if I did not get one today even though I was one of the slowest cars on the road.

The view of the Sicilian countryside from our trip today.

The purpose of todays trip was to visit the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento.  The area around here has been an urban site since the Greeks and there is a large area with different versions of mostly Greek temples, with an area of Roman development thrown into the mix.  Ton and I counted 8 different temple sites, but we may have missed a couple.  The entire Valley is about one and a half miles, and is one of the most extensive archeological sites I have seen.

Part of the remains of the Temple to Hercules.

The highlight of the valley is the Parthenon like Temple of Concorde which dominates the valley.  Originally built by the Greeks 2500 years ago it has been repurposed over time as Carthaginian, Roman, and Christian Temples/Churches which is why it has survived in such good shape.  Many people say it is in better shape than the Parthenon in Athens.

The Temple of Concordia.
Another view of the Temple of Concordia, with a broken statue of Icarus in front.

The Valley of Temples is one of the most impressive World Heritage Sites we have visited.  For me it was pretty awe inspiring.

The Temple of Juno.

October 11, 2019 Marsala IT

Our first full day in Italy was a treat.  We were still a little unsettled about our plans for Sicily when we woke up.  Marsala is famous for a type of fortified wine and while I was sleeping Ton found a place where we could have a tour.  So while I was making coffee she proposed we spend the day here and take the tour.  The winery was too far away to walk to, and it required reservations so we had to find out if we could get in and arrange for a taxi to take us there.  I went up to the office and asked if they could arrange a taxi, and call the winery for us as we do not have a sim card for Italy in our phone.  The owner of the campground said he would take us and the winery could accommodate us at 10am.  Since it was already 9:15, I ran back to tell Ton to get ready as we needed to leave in 20 minutes.  Giacomo the owner of the campground  ran off to change into better clothes and also to quickly give the van from the campground a wash.  We arrived at Florio winery with 10 minutes to spare.

Our breakfast today, not healthy but delicious.

Florio Winery was founded in the early 1800’s to produce Marsala.  It was the first Marsala Wine producer to be owned by Italians as prior to that the fortified wine industry in Marsala was dominated by English.  The Florio family went on to become quite a conglomerate including wine, shipping, agriculture, and light industry.  At one time they were by far the richest family on Sicily.  They also made their mark by providing some of the original assistance to Garibaldi as he began his campaign to unite Italy into one country.  Like many family dynasties the first generation makes all of the money, the second generation maintains the fortune, and the third generation squanders it all.  The third generation of the Florio’s ended up selling off the winery to raise cash to pay for their extravagant lifestyle.

A 700 liter wine cask built for an exhibition in San Francisco in 1915.  It is still in use today for production of cooking wine.

After we completed the wine tasting we followed the harbor to the old town.  Things are scruffier in Sicily, but very charming.  We enjoyed walking around town looking at the sites when we realized that our breakfast had been fortified wine.  We found a nice restaurant near Garibaldi square.  The food was outstanding, and the service was really outstanding. The waiter was a young guy who may have been the son of the owner, and if not acted like he was.  At the end  we asked for coffee and when we commented on how much we liked it he lit up and told us it was a local coffee and talked us thru the beans and roasting process with great passion.

The Garibaldi Gate near the point where Garibaldi landed with his initial 100 supporters in his successful campaign to unify Italy.

We arranged for Giacomo to pick us up at a local grocery store.  After delivering us to François I saw him sitting in a chair near the office having a beer and struck up a conversation.  It turns out between driving us to town and picking us up he had spent the day harvesting the olives from the trees around the campground.  Talking to him it turns out he had retired from the Italian Army after 20 years and returned home to Marsala to open the campground on part of his fathers farm.  He took us around the campground showing us the different plants and herbs he had planted around the campground.  It was a treat to spend some time with him.

Some of the olives harvested by Giacomo the owner of the campground we are staying in.

October 10, 2019 Marsala IT

Our ferry ride was relatively uneventful though it was 23 hours instead of the advertised 19 hours.  We never found out what caused the extra 4 hours of time but we suspect that it was due to the cruise ship we passed leaving port as we pulled in.  As a result we put our trip to the grocery aside and headed straight to our campground.

The port of Trapani Italy as we pulled in on the ferry.

Once we off loaded we had a 30 kilometer introduction to Italian driving.  Up until now we had been driving in countries that on the whole behaved like American drivers when faced with decisions.  No passing zones mean you do not pass, stop signs are meant to be stopped at, and no parking means no parking.  My initial feeling is that driving here is a lot like driving in Mexico.  People are relatively predictable but you have to know the unwritten rules as well as the written rules, and expect a little more aggressive driving.  Hopefully we will adapt pretty quick.  As we were driving up to the campground Ton said that Sicily reminded her of Thailand, which is mostly good.  Tomorrow will be our introduction to Italy as visitors.

This area is famous for salt production.  We passed several of these salt works on the way to the campground.