Thursday, July 16, 2009

The end of the trip

We saw Girona. It rocked. Thanks, RyanAir, for introducing the world to a very cool city.

That's all.

Did you want more? Sheesh. Well, fine. Later. But go to Girona. It's not just for Barcelona stop-overs anymore.

Monday, July 6, 2009

We're home!

I promise I will give an update about the end of our trip soon, but I wanted to let you know we are home safe and sound. The trees of Newton and sands of Cape Cod and traffic of Boston have never been so cherished. =)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Cousin Babs was our go-to girl for Sicily planning. She gave us tons of good advice: Taormina--loved it, Oliveri/Tindari--check plus, rent a car--we wish we did, Palermo--skip it. Only we didn't skip Palermo. The train ride from Taormina to Trapani would have been so long that it just didn't make sense considering how poorly we are still feeling. So we stopped in Palermo, hoping maybe Babs was wrong.

While touring the rest of Sicily, many of the locals here told us that it is cleaner and safer than in years past, and the architechture is beautiful and rich in history. Well, if it is cleaner and safer now, I'd hate to have visited before. Granted, the trash workers are on strike, so that stench that hits you when you walk off the bus? It's probably multiplied this week. Maybe a few weeks ago, it wouldn't have been so bad. There are dead birds all over the roads, mangy dogs and cats licking the sores, and sad people without homes, begging on every corner. To be honest, the city was heartbreaking. The immigrant population is HUGE, making it hard to move without being accosted (even at dinner) to buy Hello Kitty keychains and Indian and northern African kitsch. We met two other couples at dinner, who were both slightly horrified at the city as well.

At the risk of sounding like a spoiled American, Palermo is just not worth it. I kept my money purse tucked into the spandex shorts I wore under my dress (PS -- don't wear dresses in Palermo). I felt safe in Barcelona, in the rest of Sicily, and certainly in Switzerland. But there is something about this place that just makes me nervous. Everyone moves so quickly, like they're running away from something. People walk so close to you that you feel their breath on your neck. Motor bikes zip around corners and leave you with a mouthful of exhaust. It's hard to breathe here, between the emissions, the trash, and the cigarettes. Granted, some of the architecture is beautiful, but it hasn't been very well kept. We looked at one section of the city and Mark asked if there had been an earthquake, because everything was falling apart.

The hotel we stayed in was a great value, and the reception desk was incredibly helpful. Ironically, it was the best service we have gotten on the trip. It beat the Hilton! Still, we won't be back to Palermo. Off to catch a bus now, then to Girona to stay with Alicia for the next two days. We'll be going to Dali's museum and maybe another beach. Home on Thursday!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Flashback: Torino to Trapani

Here's a little something I wrote on the plane from Torino to Trapani...

The Italians turned a 90 minute flight from Torino to Trapani into happy hour. No one read; no one slept. We were the only English speakers, which made the frequent bilingual updates almost comical. People made new friends, discovered mutual connections, and fought charmingly with spouses and relatives. Men wearing tight, tapered leg pants and gold accented sneakers leaned cavallierly with one arm bent on the overhead compartment. The top five buttons on their shirts were decorations, rather than functional, and tufts of chest hair were visibly entangled wtih thick gold chains. These Cassanovas filled the aisles, backsides jutting out proudly, as they boasted of their travels, their jobs, or their mama's cooking. Young mothers walked toddlers up the runway, for the nonni to admire and compare to their own. High school girls used what my teacher self would call their 'outdoor voices' as they yelled across the aisles to their friends. The only time their voices lowered was when they caught the eye of those handsome, chesty men. And then, it was all giggles. I tried to keep focused on reading my Italian lessons, but the real-life classroom ahead of me was just too interesting. Mark and I often turned to each other, grinning. We didnt even need to speak.

When the flight crew came down the aisles to offer food or shopping magazines, the Italians eyed them narrowly, as if intruders. The passengers seldom moved aside, forcing the stewardesses to step around babies, bags, and bottoms. When the pilot came on to announce landing, the chatter paused for a fleeting moement, but then resumed as the men continued to wave around their hands passionately, throw their heads back, and fill the cabin with belly laughter. After several minutes of prodding by the airline crew, the people casually made their way back to a seat, making it seem like the whole movement had been their idea. When the plane started a more rapid decent, the cabin lights went out. Again, a split second lull in the din and then as if on cue, the individual reading lights went on and the screaming baby could barely be heard over the booming voices of the men now yelling to those they were previously charming.

The plane landed clumsily, bouncing and screetching to a halt, certainly not a laudable finish by most measures. But for the Italians, it marked the end of a successful journey. And for that, they cheered loudly.


I mentioned yesterday that we were offered a car ride to Taormina by a woman staying at the Hilton. It ended up great. She drove us right to the farm, Casale Praia. The rooms are simple but comfortable and the owners are fantastic. They are a Finnish mother, her daughter, and her Brasilian son-in-law. There are only four rooms, and it was just opened in May. So we are getting the royal treatment. Sadly, we aren't able to enjoy it fully because we are still under the weather. So what does one do when not eating in Italy? Hmm. We've watched endless hours of Michael Jackson specials on CNN, played with the sweet kitten and puppy at the farm, and slept for more hours than one should sleep on vacation.

We both feel a bit better this morning, but still aren't really eating. We took a walk along the beach this morning (a bit accidentally, since we missed our bus up to Taormina!). It's very pretty. There's not much sand, but rather made up of small rocks. We took a bus up to Taormina, a little town on a mountain with great views. Mark says this is his favorite part of Sicily. We are in an internet cafe now because there are NO bathrooms anywhere, unless you sit down and buy food, which isn't really an option for us. So we figured we'd rather pay to use the internet and get the bathroom thrown in, than pay for a coffee or ice cream we are not going to eat.

We are likely going to change our plans for tomorrow. The journey back to Trapani will be so long -- as short as 10 hours and as long as ??? -- that we may go to Palermo, which should only be about 5 hours away, and stay the night there. We'll take a 2 hour bus to the airport from Palermo, instead of taking a 5 hour train, like we took on the way here.

Internet time is just about up! Ciao!

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Let's last post was Thursday evening. Picking up where I left off -- Nato and Graziella took us to an agriturismo, which is basically like a bed and breakfast on a working farm. They are very popular in mainland Italy, and are gaining popularity in Sicily. They have rooms for stay, but the best ones are also great restaurants too. This one was no exception. The food was out of this world! We started with antipasti, including local meats, local cheeses like pecorino, parmesan, and ricotta, grilled garden vegetables, olives from the grounds of the farm, aranchini (fried rice balls--love them!) and bread. Next was the pasta. It was a dish of handmade rotini with garden fresh tomatoes on one side, and handmade ravioli in a gorgonzola sauce on the other. I was in heaven. Dessert was chocolate flan. We had great coversation at the table -- all in Italian of course -- about immigration, school systems, agriculture, and the economy. Needless to say, our Italian is improving. =) Nato and Graziella then took us to their condo and showed us some pictures of Babs, Perry, Paul, Peter (Boston-based DiNatales), and some other relatives. It was a great night!

The next morning, Mark and I ate way too much breakfast at the Hilton. Free food?? We couldn't pass that up. Nato picked us up around 11am and we did a whirlwind tour of the area. We drove up a huge hill to the church of Black Madonna in Tindari, walked around the grounds for fantastic views, saw the ancient Greek ruins that have been uncovered in Tindari, had a five course lunch with Nato's grandmother, went for a boat ride around the Oliveri-Tindari area, and relaxed on the beach a bit after. The boat ride was a highlight. Italians have a word for beautiful, panoramic scenery: belvedere. Vedere is the verb 'to see', and bella means beautiful. I think I said 'belvedere' about 30 times on a 30 minute boat ride. It was a private boat, with just Nato, Mark, the captain, and me. Because of this, Mark and I were both able to steer the boat. Very fun.

Unfortunately, Mark and I came down with something that afternoon. After the boat ride, we started feeling very tired, and sick to our stomaches. By evening, we were toast, and couldn't even go out to eat with Nato. We aren't sure if it was food poisoning, or the flu. Mark is upstairs sleeping (we went to bed at 9pm and it is now 1pm!), but I had a piece of toast and felt well enough to sneak in some computer time. While I was explaining to the receptionist this morning that we needed a train to Letojanni, an English woman who is staying at the hotel, and visiting Taormina for the evening, overhead and offered to drive us!! The trains here are pretty reliable, and affordable, but a 3 hour drive from Trapani to Oliveri took us NINE hours by train. So we were not looking forward to the train from Oliveri to Letojanni. Needless to say, this arrangement seems like a gift from God! We meet her in about an hour and a half.

On a slightly comical note, as I mentioned before, we got our laundry done here at the Hilton. I knew it would be expensive. I figured maybe 30 or 40 euro. When I saw the bill for 145 euro, I almost fainted. I explained to the receptionist that had she told me it would be that expensive, we NEVER would have washed all our clothes. (And I suppose I can take some responsibility for it as well. Had I asked...) To spend $215 on laundry is absurd. We have been sleeping on people's couches to save money, so this was a slight setback. She just smiled and said, 'Yes, you should have washed them in town. It's only about 5 euros per load.' Right. Thanks for telling us this now! Ha. Not much we can do about it, so I will just chalk it up to a lesson learned.

So, this afternoon we are off to Letojanni, which is a small beach town next to Taormina, a more touristy but very beautiful town set up on a hill. We spend two nights on an agriturismo there. Then, on the 29th, we take a 12 hour train ride back to Trapani, stay at Podere San Giovanni, the first place we stayed at when we arrived in Sicily, and fly to Girona, Spain at 4:30pm. We spend two nights in Girona, and then come home. I am not sure if I will have any access to a computer in the next 6 days, so don't worry if you don't hear. Thanks for reading!! =)

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Two days ago, we went to Lucern, in Switzerland -- amazing city. Will post about it soon. But for today...

Mark's dad likes to say, 'You win some, you lose some.' Last night, we may have lost some. We took a plane from Torino to Trapani, Sicilia, and though the flight was a riot (I will post about it later), after we landed, things were a bit shady. We bought a bus ticket for 16 euro-- at 10:30pm -- to the farm we were staying at, only to find out AFTER they sold us the tickets, that we would still need to take a 30 euro taxi.They wouldn't refund our money, but told us to get the taxi straight from the airport, which would be 30 E and faster. The taxi drivers (all 8 of them -- all bored and wanting a job) had three GPS's, four friends, and 8 puzzled looks surrounding the location of the farm we booked. After a half hour, one of the guys yelled at me in Italian and in no time we were racing down dimly lit streets with a swearing cabbie. (Those days in Valle d'Aosta taught us a few swears...) Eventually, he stopped, swore some more and we just sat for about five minutes while the meter ticked. I finally got up enough courage to say, 'Um mi dispiace ma non lo capito.' My best Italian for, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?? He yelled at me again. Finally, another car pulled up, and we were off. In the other car was the owner of Podere San Giovanni, leading the cabbie to the farm, since apparently he had no idea where he was going. So, we arrived at the farm around midnight, farrrr outside the city, with no dinner except dried figs and beef jerky (which I actually did not mind...), a very expensive and shady cab ride, and to top things off, no internet. Mark was not happy. His fantasty baseball season is over now.

We woke up this morning and took a 10 hour train journey from Trapani to Oliveri. We went back and forth about getting a car, which would have saved us 7 hours, but since Mark can't drive stick, and that is all they offer for a reasonable price, we opted for santiy and peace over the time. We still may rent a car for the last few days of the trip. The train rides were uneventful, though beautiful.

Cousin Nato was waiting for us at the train station. He is personable, handsome, and easy to understand. Love it. He took us to meet his wife, Graziella, at the beach. From the beach, he pointed to the hotel he booked for us. My heart dropped a bit. It looked really far, was outside of his hometown Oliveri, and I didn't know what that meant in terms of money and transportation. I thought we were staying with them. I tried not to worry though. Like Joe Massaro says, you win some, you lose some. And since we are in Sicily, so how bad could it be??

Nato drove us to our hotel, and we recognized the chain -- the Hilton. We checked in -- all paid for, courtesy of Nato. We went to our room -- the view, absolutely breathtaking. Huge kingsized bed, with a locked door. No couches, no dirty sheets, no roommates. The bellboy was up within ten minutes to get all of our nasty dirty clothes. Nato and Graziella are picking us up for dinner in 6 minutes. Tomorrow, Nato drives us around the city for morning, and up to the church of the black madonna, and then to the beach.

All things considered, I'd have to say to Joe - you win some, and you WIN some.