France to Sicily

First came St Tropez then the Classic Grand Prix in Monaco. Old cars, not so old, and I’d positively like to be 19 again.

This was nothing but a drinkathon so I won’t detain you further. Our ever-smiling waiter with one of many magnums kept us topped up all day.

The trip continued from Nice, with a drive to Genoa just to overnight before flying to Palermo. We counted over 120 tunnels on the way! One bit of travel advice comes to mind as I think about Genoa. Never ever book a hotel that doesn’t have a front door you can drive up to. Unless of course you only have a handbag or a small backpack. This is what we tried to do with a car full of luggage in Genoa rush hour.

The arrival instructions that we should have looked at before arrival amounted to; put car in car park. Hotel sends a taxi to take us most of the way, they come and help carry the luggage the rest of the way. After driving around fruitlessly trying to gain access to what we discovered was a pedestrian area with an estate car I was all for chucking it all in the river and just buying a new hotel. But we persevered, eventually arriving at the charming Le Nuvole Hotel “tastefully decorated in a strategic position in the heart of the city”. The website completely omitting to mention that the hotel is set in the middle of a pedestrianised area.

After the fun and games we explored the old medieval part of Genoa with its high ceilings and still just visible in places frescos.  Giving a great suggestion of how splendid this place was back in the day. Same as the rest of Italy I guess, all a bit broken in places.

Another drawback to being in a pedestrian area is that the locals have nowhere to walk their dogs. And they aren’t as fastidious with their plastic bags as they should be. So as you’re trying to look up at the marvellous architecture you have to look down to avoid the inevitable. Unfortunately I was caught out once.

Genoa to Palermo the next day.

Sicily. Well this is a place that is edgy, broken; fly tipping abounds to avoid paying for garbage removal. Locals we spoke to talked about Sicily being forgotten by central government and thus receiving less funding. Certainly it feels poor in many ways. But the richness of the cuisine and the culture make up for the rickety footpaths and an air of slightly brokenness that is found in many places.

Palermo conjures up wonderful “street food”. Pane con la Milza (stewed veal spleen with cheese in a bun) wasn’t a great hit, not unlike gristly liver. Assorted arancini (rice balls stuffed with meat or spinach and cheese) on the other hand are fabulous. Ice cream is everywhere and of course excellent. Breakfast includes lots of assorted cakes, sweet things are in here. An Ice cream sandwiched in a brioche bun for example, is not unusual for breakfast. Bread is good and varied but even croissants get a dusting of sugar just in case you’re not getting a good enough energy hit already.

The typical Sicilian food is excellent lots of vegetables, caponata (similar to ratatouille but sweet and sour with the addition of sugar & vinegar). Pastas, “Norma” after the opera, aubergine and tomato, and “Sade” with sardines raisins and pine nuts, and of course lots of fish. Not surprising they live a long time here.

We have been on a road trip. Seeing the Greek and Roman antiquity stuff. Agrigento with the temples. Piazza Amerino for the amazing mosaics, best in the world says the blurb and they are expansive covering a dozen or two rooms. Taormina followed. On the way to Taormina we took a helicopter to fly over Mt Etna still with some snow in May, the “recent” lava flows still visible dating from the 1920’s to more recent times. We also flew over Taormina to see the Greek Theatre, still used today for concerts. Sting and Pink Floyd were to come later and workmen were busy putting together the stage.

Fortuitously we arrived in time for the Taormina Food festival. 300 or so chefs showcasing the 20 food regions of Italy plus oodles of Sicilian wineries with samples galore. We went, and grazed up and down the Main Street sampling as we went till full. 40 Euros for a wristband, gets you as much food as you want, and the money raised goes to charity. Wine glasses were for sale together with a pouch on a string, to wear conveniently round one’s neck. I now have two as one came with the earlier Marsala tasting, so I’m now fully kitted out for any summer concerts! Have glass’s will travel!

Syracuse followed Taormina then Ragusa when the biking starts. In Syracuse the Antico Hotel Roma 1880 another hotel in a pedestrian area but one that allows visitors to drive to it has some bikes outside. It is also very central and a great jumping off point for visitors to Syracuse and Ortigia on the northwest bit of Sicily. So I thought I’ll take one just to experience a real bike on a road. The one in my living room has been good. But it doesn’t wobble like a real one!

Only in Sicily have I seen so many depictions of the Ark. Here building it.

Ark – now being filled with all the animals of the world that turned up especially for the occasion.

Ark – gently bobbing along looking for dry land. Which does I assure you turn up, and there are other Arks landing and disgorging their cargo.

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