A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about sicily

Discovering Archimedes' Hometown

By Muriel

semi-overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

The night proved to be a cold one in our latest home. It took several hours for the place to get heated, forcing me to wear my long johns with pajama bottoms and pullover on top of them to bed. Fortunately, we have now reached a reasonable temperature. In part, it's because it's quite a large place, with a sizable master bedroom and living area, a long hallway and high ceilings.

Floridia home

Floridia home

Breakfast is included here so we ventured over to 'the hut' this morning, a cozy octogon-shaped, sloped-roof dwelling in which our Sicilian host provided us with our start to the day. It consisted of filo pastries filled with the standard Sicilian ricotta cream cheese mixture, still warm from the bakery run. This was supplemented with homemade marmalade and freeze-squeezed orange juice, both prepared by the matriarch of the family using produce from the large orchard in which we currently stay. The juice was so good I downed Hannah's as well and was looking around for a third glass, when we were invited to have something hot to drink. The mother speaks to us as if we knew Italian (I understand about one in every thirteen words due to there being many English words with Latin roots). But somehow, she seems to get her points across. The daughter is quite fluent, having lived in England for a year, and she is very personable. She, too, emphasized the dire economics in Italy but said family businesses are likely the strongest opportunity for the younger crowd as they can band together to support each other. Three generations live together on this farm; the rental business seems to merely supplement the other endeavour as we are the only residents currently.

We went into Syracuse for a few hours today. Lauded as a city with interesting sights, it nonetheless proved a bit of a disappointment for us (not that we mean to complain...!) We spent the first hour circling the island of Ortygia, the old part of the city which is accessible by a bridge, hugging the beach promenade in order to soak up as much sun as possible. When the sun disappeared, the wind could become frightfully cold. Feeling the cold the most of any of us, Abby was in countless layers, buffeted against and prepared for anything. The buildings were in quite a decayed state and, sadly, we saw much graffiti along the promenade. We did see a few interesting buildings, most notably, the duomo (cathedral). Originally the site of the Temple of Athena, the original Doric columns of the temple (dated 470 BC) were incorporated into the cathedral, which stems from the 7th century. Much of the church is newer, with various parts having been modified over the years. I particularly loved its high ceilings; the interior wrought iron gates; and the marble floor, its various inlays making it a work of art on its own. We saw it at midday, when the sun shone through the stained glass windows and reflected the chandeliers on the stone walls, an arresting sight that drew many photographers.

Syracuse Cathedral - reflection of chandelier

Syracuse Cathedral - reflection of chandelier

Lunch was a quick repast of pizza and panini and we were thankful we found a small place to shelter us from the rains that came. My panini was really tasty, a salami, cheese and lettuce affair rolled in a wrap and toasted. Abby elected to try the hot dog pizza, not a combination I would have been up to ordering, but a small bite did bring back memories of those 'pizza dogs' I loved as a kid. We chased the food down with our daily gelato ration, branching out into new flavours: Kit Kat and Nutella. As the server was putting the Nutella gelato into my cup, I noted it was being scooped out as chunks rather than the usual creamy consistency. When I asked him about this, he said that was the way the Nutella flavour came. Hmmm. I wasn't convinced but accepted it anyway. It was more like Nutella fudge ... and Abby ended up loving it.

Syracuse

Syracuse

We took a look at the Fountain of Diana, in the Piazza Archimedes. And speaking of Archimedes, note that he`s the guy who came up with the Archimedes Screw and the Claw of Archimedes. He was a Greek physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer and is generally considered to be the greatest mathematician of antiquity. There is a story about him of which you may be familiar: his understanding of the displacement of water in his bathtub caused him to yell `Eureka`and run naked into the town square. However, this anecdote is largely thought to be legend only. Similarly, although the story of his death proves good reading, it is not known whether it is accurate either. Apparently, in 212 BC, when Roman forces captured the city of Syracuse after a two-year-long siege, Archimedes was contemplating a mathematical diagram. A Roman soldier commanded him to come and meet the general but he declined, saying that he had to finish working on the problem. (Muriel`s editorial comment: I understand this feeling totally.) Enraged, the soldier killed Archimedes with his sword. General Marcellus was reportedly angered by the death, as he considered Archimedes a valuable scientific asset and had ordered that he not be harmed. (It wouldn`t be hard to guess what happened to the soldier.)

Syracuse Our Lady of Tears Church

Syracuse Our Lady of Tears Church

In the afternoon, we walked back into the newer part of Syracuse, feeling our way through the city to reach the Santuario Madonna delle Lacrime, or the "Our Lady of Tears" sanctuary. Designed to evoke a gigantic teardrop, the church was created to house the statue of the Madonna that reputably wept for five days in 1953. Pilgrims still visit every year. It is a massive structure that dominates the city`s skyline, rising 75 meters. Architecturally, I think it belongs in Barcelona; it`s another one for you to visit, Jim. We arrived home in time to cook supper (thanks again, Hannah), to blog and to do more planning. Tomorrow is another day.

Posted by KZFamily 03:38 Archived in Italy Tagged sicily syracuse Comments (1)

Holy Cannoli: Friendly Floridia

By Ben

semi-overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Floridia: Cannoli--a gift from the Cafe/Bar we ate at

Floridia: Cannoli--a gift from the Cafe/Bar we ate at

We headed to the south coast of Sicily today. Our camping host in Sant'Alesso Siculo sent us on our way with a few suggestions on towns to see on our way to Floridia which is near Syracuse which we will visit tomorrow. For his earnest efforts I passed on a Canada pin which he liked very much.

We had two main options; follow the coast or try cozying up to Mount Etna. We chose to follow the coast principally because of the snow at the higher elevations. Mount Etna is 3000 meters tall and seems to be a magnet for cold weather and snow even at the 1000 meters level. It is odd to be feeling 17 degrees on the coast and looking up and seeing snow and thick cloud not that far away. Today is a bit cooler than yesterday, fluctuating between 12 and 15 degrees for most of the day but nothing like the freezing temperatures that could greet us a little further inland.

It seems with driving in Sicily nothing is that straight-forward. Following the coastline to visit some of the villages meant trying to stay off the A18, the main toll highway. This is easier said than done since the coast consists of innumerable mountain ridges flowing into the sea, towns clinging to the limited waterfront and the railroad vying for space that a coastal road would require. As a result, the supposed coastal road skips all over the place. If you dare turn off the "coastal highway" you are never sure what sort of rabbit warren of roads you are going to get into. We were not successful in getting into the little towns that were suggested to us. Either our GPS was untrustworthy or the signage failed us.

It was still an interesting drive that revealed lava pillars that formed just off the coast and some glimpse into the gritty streets of small town Sicily. However, the true driving challenge arose when we got to Catania. The real hazards associated with staying off the bland toll highway and sticking with SS14, the coastal route, was illustrated for us as we "navigated" this section. We were encouraged by our camp host from the previous two nights to take this route since it was very straight forward-essentially just stay on the road closest to the ocean. Unfortunately, the Sicilian road system makes generous use of detours which our camp host seemed to have forgotten. Many of these detours look to be decades old but they made following the coast around the edge of Catania an impossible task. As with driving in Rome, lanes are meaningless and roads and lanes merge and diverge like streams of sea water rushing across a tidal plain. Add to this scooters and pedestrians and you have what looks like a slow motion hailstorm with each pellet of ice representing an obstacle to avoid. Once I needed to yield for a scruffy looking man in this thirties leading a parade of at least six large unleashed dogs following him in single file. They were transecting part of a traffic circle. The parade participants looked serene and surprisingly not a car horn was sounded when they crossed a section of road where cars were jockeying four abreast for road space.

After Catania we decided to locate our accommodation in Floridia and get some lunch before attempting to find any of the other towns on our suggestion list. Our 2 bedroom apartment is located on an orange and lemon plantation. As with our previous lodgings in Sicily, the location was obscure and its approach unsettling both in appearance and condition. We found ourselves once again being the only persons staying for the night in rather chilly environs . After several hours of heat our place still has nip in the air. In contrast, our hosts are very warm and had quite a bit of information to share, albeit mostly in Italian. We did understand the suggestions regarding several locations we could have lunch and where we could get groceries for a good price. We headed into the rather decrepit looking town of Floridia.

Floridia: Our new Sicilian friend

Floridia: Our new Sicilian friend

We found a parking spot in front of the police station which seemed pretty safe. I later found it was actually reserved for police cars but no ticket or imprisonment resulted. We easily located one of the bar/cafes that our host had suggested. We decided to get arancini again (risotto and ragu ovals covered in bread crumbs) and try another item that looked like a cross-section of a calzone that was stuffed with risotto and sausage. We made great effort to find out what was in each item on display and then order it all in Italian. Our 20 year old server seemed somewhat taken by our efforts and was a very cheerful counter server who used some words of English in return. The food we ordered was delicious and with a couple of drinks it only came to 9 Euros which was incredibly cheap. As we ate the young woman who served us came out from behind with a tray holding eight cannoli. She was accompanied by her 30 year old sister who spoke English. She had her sister translate that she wanted to offer us an example of Sicilian pastries on the house. We were a bit stunned by this display of generosity. What followed was a fascinating discussion about the 40 year history of the family business and the fact that the older sister had gone away to university and the other to London but the economics of Italy had forced both of them home to work in the family business. They said family was the most important so they were choosing to stay. At the end we gave another Canada pin and took some pictures to remember our newfound friends by. The kids have noted that we have given out more Canada pins and key chains in Sicily than all the rest of our Europe so far. This is just a tiny indicator of the friendliness of the Sicilian people.

Noto: Baroque Architecture

Noto: Baroque Architecture

We dropped Abby off at our apartment and the three of us went to explore the nearby town of Noto which is known for its Baroque architecture. Noto, along with several other Sicilian cities, was destroyed in the late 1600s by an earthquake and rebuilt in the Baroque style. The vestiges of this old grandeur still remain although obscured somewhat by many less prosperous times that have followed. One really needs to let Sicily slowly seep in to get to know its charms--it is the people, the food and sunshine. The architecture and even the tired landscape on first blush could cause one to dismiss Sicily as a land worthy of visitation.

After a delicious serving of gelato we quitted Noto and did some grocery shopping on our way back to our apartment. Before we could get home the detour monster raised its ugly head once again. We had been subject to a detour earlier in the day in Floridia but were unprepared for the detour to be reversed on our return. Several rotations through the tight streets and sharp turns with a long car were required before we returned to the cool safety of our home. Hannah elected to make homemade chicken soup which was a brilliant choice and superbly executed. The soup warmed my brain and thus I found a way to increase the output of our apartment heaters so hopefully in a few more hours we may be just a bit warmer.

Posted by KZFamily 12:56 Archived in Italy Tagged italy sicily floridia Comments (7)

Sant'Alessio Siculo

By Abby

sunny 16 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Sant'Alessio Siculo: Beach in front of our trailer

Sant'Alessio Siculo: Beach in front of our trailer

I woke up to find that Hannah and I were the only ones in the house, but this didn't surprise me as the sun was shining, we were right on a beach, and it was 10:30. But as I walked out into the kitchen my parents came through the front door, but soon enough they were gone again, as they had only come in to grab a book. So I ate some breakfast alone, took a shower and before long Hannah was up as well. By one o'clock Hannah and I had set the table and were just setting down lunch. We all enjoyed soup, leftover pasta, crackers and cheese.

Sant'Alessio Siculo: Our two bedroom beach trailer

Sant'Alessio Siculo: Our two bedroom beach trailer

After lunch all four of us went out for a walk along the beach to enjoy the beautiful weather. The sun was shining and even though at times there was a slight breeze it was nice. We looked around for a gelato place, but there were none to be found open in January, so we walked back home. My parents read some more outside while Hannah and I relaxed inside by reading and writing blogs. Although slow, it was nice to have a beach day in the sun.

Posted by KZFamily 11:26 Archived in Italy Tagged italy sicily taormina sant'alessio_siculo Comments (4)

Exploring Taormina

By Hannah

sunny 17 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

We left our cottage in Gioiosa Marea today, and continued down the Sicilian coast. Along the way, we stopped to visit a couple towns. The first one we saw was a hill town called San Fratello. It was raining, and Mom was the only one brave enough to pop her head out for a look around a nearby cemetery. There were a number of large tombs, each one for a different family. However, as the rest of us were keen to stay dry, we moved on. Even my mom was done after a few minutes.

Taormina: The symbol of Sicily since the 1200s

Taormina: The symbol of Sicily since the 1200s

The next place we stopped at was Taormina. Luckily, the weather had improved by now. We walked through the town for a bit, enjoying the unseasonably warm sunshine. It seems like it's never winter here. There were lots of crowded shop windows to look into, full of pottery, jewelry, and other trinkets. Each pottery shop had a number of decorations with a rather bizarre symbol on them: a woman's head with a pair of wings and three legs sticking out of it. It turns out to be the symbol of Sicily, and is called a triskelion or trinacria. It's on the Sicilian flag, and trinacria was actually an ancient name for Sicily. If you're interested, the full story is here. There were a number of bright, breezy squares to stroll through, and many ever-winding streets, as is typical of the Sicilian towns we've seen (and driven through, as you've heard). We had lunch at a little diner, and tried some Italian foods that were foreign to us. Our favourite was arancini, which are fried rice balls made from risotto coated in breadcrumbs. The three varieties we had were ragù, spinach and prosciutto. And what would a sunny day in Sicily be without gelato?

Taormina: View from near castle above town

Taormina: View from near castle above town

We explored Taormina a little more, and took a hike up a bluff nearby in order to get a view of the town. There were lots and lots of cacti covering the hillside, which was a little surprising, at least to me. I wasn't aware that Italy had the right climate for plants like that to flourish. There was a little church on the way up, as well as stone sculptures of the Stations of the Cross every several steps. Unfortunately, we never did see the top. There was a large locked gate blocking our way, and an impassable stone wall, though my dad and sister argued otherwise. In the end, we told ourselves that it's in the journey, not the destination, and headed back down the bluff.

While we were climbing, we saw an amphitheatre located on another nearby cliff. We decided to go visit it as well, seeing as it had looked so impressive. We're getting pretty good at appreciating ruins, especially amphitheatres (this is our third this trip). We got to walk around inside and up and down the steps, most likely contributing to the erosion of the two thousand year old monument. There was a fantastic view of the Mediterranean waters and Sicilian coast as well. It was a tough town to leave. I've already decided to return.

Taormina: Amphitheatre

Taormina: Amphitheatre

We drove another half hour to get to Sant'Alessio Siculo. It took a little while to find the campsite, but in comparison to our last place, it was a breeze. The place feels kind of like a motor home, except it's bigger and doesn't have wheels. The owners, who are brother and sister, are very friendly (as are most Sicilians), and have never hosted Canadians before. We think we'll give them a pin. After shopping for dinner at one of the most depressing grocery stores ever, we settled into our accommodations. We're looking forward to a walk on the beach tomorrow.

Posted by KZFamily 11:12 Archived in Italy Tagged italy sicily taormina sant'alessio_siculo Comments (3)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 6) Page [1] 2 » Next