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 see..my 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.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Some Photos

We arrived in Martingy Switzerland at 10am. On our way through the alps, there was a beautiful rainbow. We love it here. Hope you enjoy a few of our pictures.
I heart kittens

Gaudi's apartment

Hiking the Italian Alps with Fede, Anna Rita, Paolo, Giorgio, and Pam the dog

La Plaza Reail in Barcelona

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I heart Le Alpe

I hope Mark will do a separate post on how these last few days have impacted him, and I plan to write more later (we will hopefully do laundry and hang out in an internet cafe tomorrow when we arrive in Switzerland). For now though, a few words. Spending these last few days in the Italian Alps have been surreal. We spent the last two days with Fede and her friends, hiking, singing, cooking, talking, and relaxing, with Le Alpe (the Alps) as our backdrop. I couldn't ask for a better respite. The house we stayed at was situated in an abandoned village, and was built right next to a babbling stream. We fell asleep to a sound that most people need a cd to hear. Truly incredible. I am so thankful for this time, especially because my Italian has greatly improved and I'm feeling more secure about our time in Sicily with my cousins that don't speak any English!!

Tomorrow, off to Switzerland. It's a two hour bus ride from the Aosta Valley. We'll be staying with Stefan, another couch-surfing host. I hear Mark speaking Spanish to the Italians in the other room so I think I'll go... =)

Friday, June 19, 2009


We arrived safely in Aosta this evening, after an eventful three hour train ride through both green and snow-capped mountains during a thunderstorm. The Italian trains aren't exactly Amtrak quality, and there was a huge leak overhead, which spilled several cups of water on us while we were sleeping. It was more funny than anything though.

Fede was waiting for us at the train station, and then took us back to her place in a CAR. We've been walking about 10 miles a day (no exaggeration -- we are on our feet from about 9am - 12 or 1am every day), so the car was a welcome surprise. Fede then showed us to our room, which is super clean, neatly decorated, and private! Her entire apartment is immaculate. We honestly could not ask for better accomodations. She is extremely sweet, is conversational in English, and apparently I've impressed her with my Italian. She said I am the first American woman she knows that can speak Italian! (I told her that sadly, it is rare for a public American school to offer more than Spanish, Latin, and maybe French.) We just found out that none of the others going on the hike tomorrow speak English, so I will be speaking Italian all day! Mark speaks Spanish to the Italians and most of the time they look at him like he has six heads, but occasionally he gets away with it. =)

Fede had to go to work tonight, and does not come home until 6am. She'll then sleep most of the day, leaving Mark and I free to relax tthis evening and catch up on all that sleep we missed last night. Then tomorrow we can walk around the town, and enjoy the goregous views before our hike. There may be a Brasilian couchsurfer coming tonight as well. Mark and I have really enjoyed getting to know other international travelers.

Just wanted to update about our arrival in Aosta. Since we will be sleeping in the mountains tomorrow, I probably will not post again for a few days. If you don't hear from us by Tuesday, it means we got eaten by bears. Ciao a tutti!

Benvenuti a Italia!

Ciao belle! We have arrived in Italy. Last night, we took a train to Girona, in Spain, which is a smaller city north of Barcelona. Girona is a much quieter, but equally impressive place. Ryanair, a low-cost European airline flies out of Girona, so we found a couchsurfing host to have us before our flight to Torino, and after our flight home from Sicilia. Her name is Alicia. She was so kind and accomodating. We had a great time. She had some amazing cherries as a snack when we arrived, (yay for fruit!!) and took us to pinxos ('pinches'). Pinxos are little snacks on small pieces of baguette, like smoked salmon with vegetables, parrots' eggs and peppers (yes, I had that one), red peppers stuffed with tuna, and my favorite -- anchovies with lots of other little goodies. The restaurant was not touristy at all, was cheap, and offered delicious food. Alicia's friend Esteban, who just happens to want to be a writer!, came along as well. Later, we met up with a few more friends, and watched some traditional Catalan dancing in the piazza.

When we arrived back to Alicia's apartment, we had the typical couchsurfing exchange with her and her roommate, Laia, about politics in America. =) Most of our conversations were true Spanglish! Mark did great trying to explain complicated ideas in Spanish, and I picked up on the non-verbal cues when it looked like the girls had no idea what we were talking about. We have been a good team.

We'll be heading back to Alicia's in a few weeks, on our way back to Barcelona from Sicilia so we'll spend some more time with her, Esteban, and Laia then. There will be a third couchsurfer then as well. We're looking forward to more time with them. During our final stay in Girona, we plan to head to the nearby town of Figueres, the hometown of Salvador Dali, where there is a Dali museum.

The least fun part of our time in Girona was waking up in the middle of the night. The plane departed at 6:30am, so we had to wake up at 4:30am!! Needless to say, neither of us were too excited about that. We're now enjoying a leisurely day in Torino, checking email, eating pizza (Mark says he has died and gone to heaven) and sampling all of the gelato we can find. We are saving the mecca of gelato for this afternoon though -- Grom. It was highly recommended to us when we went to an Italian gelateria in Spain, and the two locations in NYC have created quite a buzz. I will keep you posted.

We like Torino, but are looking forward to our time in Aosta and Switzerland as well. We take a two hour train to Fede's place in Aosta at 5pm. Tomorrow, we are hiking the Italian alps and sleeping in a little hut for the night with Fede and her friends! She does not speak much English, and I doubt her friends do either, so my Italian will really be tested.

OK -- I think they are going to charge us a lot for this internet time so gotta jet! Hope everyone is well. xo

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We´ve arrived!

We left Newton at 5pm on Sunday, and arrived in Barcelona at 8pm on Monday. What a trip! We had a six hour layover in London so we decided against sleep and went to Windsor Castle instead.

We´re staying in the spare bedroom of a young couple´s apartment in a trendy area of Barcelona. We get lost every time we try to get home...it took us TWO hours tonight. But anyway. Monday night, Andy, our host, took us to a cool tapas place. Tuesday we went to Sagrada Famiglia, and Parc Guell, both homes to Antonio Gaudi´s works. I´m now a huge fan.

Today, we went to the beach where we were accosted by illegal immigrants wanting to give us massages...and Mark and I both gladly took two for 5 Euros a piece. Wow! In the afternoon, we went to Mont Juic, the site of the 1992 Olympics. We saw an amazing Flamenco show. The best part of our trip so far has been a bit unexpected though. Mark jumped a fence into the Catalunya Gastronomic Conference tonight. I couldn´t leave him in there, so I snuck past two security guards and we ate AMAZING food and stuffed ourselves silly with everything from fried calamari to crema catalunya. No one would have noticed we weren´t from Spain, except I had on flip flops and a Red Sox hat, which I ended up taking off. The only downside to the party was that on the way home, which normally should have taken an hour, we walked UP the mountain, instead of down. Two hours later, here we are.

This was done very quickly, but I just wanted to update everyone. Tomorrow, off to Girona and then we fly to Torino early the next morning. besos,

Mark and Megan

Friday, June 12, 2009


Here is our expected itinerary. We'll be online occasionally to book rooms or post a bit to let everyone know we're safe and happy. Feel free to leave suggestions or comments. Ciao!

June 14
9:30pm British Airways Flight BA 0214 to London

6 hour layover at Heathrow

June 15 2:50pm BA Flight 0480 London to Barcelona, land @ 5:55pm
Lodging: Room in an apartment of young people in el Born neighborhood

June 16 - Explore Barcelona
Lodging: Apartment in el Born

June 17 - Explore Barcelona
Lodging: Apartment in el Born

June 18 - Explore Barcelona
1.5 hour train ride to Girona in late afternoon
Lodging: Couchsurfing at Alicia's in Girona

June 19
RyanAir flight FR9111 - Girona to Torino, 6:30 - 8am
Explore Torino
Take bus or train to Valle de Aosta in late afternoon
Lodging: Couchsurfing with Fede in Aosta

June 20
Explore Aosta
Lodging: Couchsurfing with Fede in Aosta

June 21
Explore Aosta
Lodging: Couchsurfing with Fede in Aosta

June 22
8am bus to Martigny, Switzerland
Lodging: Couchsurfing with Stefan

June 23

Explore Switzerland
Lodging: Couchsurfing with Stefan

June 24
RyanAir flight FR8629 - Turin to Trapani, 7:30 - 9pm
Lodging: Podere San Giovanni (San Giovanni Farm)

June 25 Drive/ride along northern coast of Sicily
Stop in Cefalu or Oliveri/Tindari
Lodging: Maybe meet some relatives?

June 26
Aeolian Islands, leave from Milazzo
Lodging: Maybe meet some relatives?

June 27
Lodging: Casale Praia in Letojanni

June 28
Lodging: Casale Praia in Letojanni

June 29
Greek ruins at Agrigento
Lodging: Back to Podere San Giovanni

June 30
RyanAir flight FR9361 - Trapani to Girona, 4:35pm - 6:25pm
Lodging - Couchsurfing with Alicia again!

July 1
Explore Girona or Barcelona
Lodging - TBD

July 2
British Airways Flight BA 7072 Barcelona to Heathrow, 4:35pm
BA 0239 Heathrow to Boston, arrive home at 9:45pm

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mark and Megan's Excellent (European) Adventures

Welcome back!
When Mark and I married, I was 22. Mark traveled all over Europe the year before we met; I had never left the country. The only trips I'd been on were to Disneyworld and Cape Cod. I loved those vacations, but always dreamed of visiting Ireland, Italy, and Germany. I never felt particularly Irish, Italian, or German, but thought that if I traveled to those places, I might have more of a connection to my heritage. I feel so blessed that this has been case with Italy. I never imagined I'd be there twice in two years, and with two of my favorite people in the whole world - my husband and my sister!

A few weeks ago, Mark and I booked a 16 day trip to Europe. He graduated from Babson on May 16th, and is currently job hunting. It seemed like good timing - neither of us would be working. (I suppose to some Debbie Downers, that sounds like bad timing.) Anyway, I knew I wanted to blog about our travels. Why? There are a number of reasons, but for the general public, the most relevent one is as follows. There's a book that Wisconsin Beth always used to refer to, and I've heard it's now a movie - "He's just not that into you." Tweak that phrase a little, and you have our philosophy on traveling. Mark and I know that you're just not that into us. So we'll refrain from tweeting, updating our Facebook statuses daily, and flooding your inbox while we're on vacation (and you're at your desk.) That said, there are a decent number of people who may want to hear how things are going as we make our way through a few countries. Thus, the blog.

Our Itinerary
I won't be updating daily. It'll probably be more like every few days, depending on where we stay. We leave for Spain on June 14th at 9:30pm, and arrive in Barcelona at 4:55pm on June 15th. We'll spend a few days in Barcelona, then head to Tornio, Italia on June 19th, making our way to the Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps (and if we can manage it, a few days in Switzerland). On June 24th, we fly to Sicilia, and will tour the island, hopefully meeting some distant cousins. Our return flight to Boston is on July 2nd.

Money Talk
After my trip to Italy last year, and the go at it this year, I'm half-heartedly considering writing a book called, "The Poor Man's Guide to Europe." Maybe some of my posts will turn into chapters. Whenever I tell people (most of whom have higher-paying jobs than we do) about my previous trip, and the one we've booked, they ask how we have the funds, or make comments about how it must be nice to afford a trip to Europe. Though there are certainly exceptions and seasons in our lives, most people have options, and can prioritize the way they spend their money. Things that some consider non-negotiable (like drinks, movies, shoes, and fancy dinners), might just be options for others. Additionally, there are ways to get cheap or free flights, low or no-cost accomodations, eat three meals a day, and still enjoy your time in Europe. The prioritizing that needs to happen both in your daily life as you're saving up for a trip like this, and while overseas, is not for everyone. It may take some time (Mark and I have been married 6 years!), but it can be done. Not having children makes the whole process a lot easier, too! Maybe I'll do a posting series about the financial piece when we're back.

So, check in whenever, and leave us some love (or suggestions). Ciao, adios!