A Travellerspoint blog


Sicily continues

Mazzarino is a town in the south of Sicily, about three hours driving out of Milazzo. Mazzarino is Rita's town. Rita is our landlady for four days. She (and her vintner husband Reno who my bloke reckons is not Sicilian) owns the apartment in Via Cannada, 3; directly below her own. There has been considerable email communication between my bloke and Rita in the prepatory stages of our tour - he had her pegged as mid forties, really well organised and pretty assertive. Right on all counts (positive feedback time - sometimes he's right). She's actually a human dynamo who loves Sicily and loves Mazzarino.

Rita is a schoolie - teaches PE (hence the body!) at a small school in Mazzarino; has a vineyard which produces 40,000 bottles a year (chardy and a very nice red); is a great cook (made a birthday cake for me - story to follow) and a great host; currently moving towards the principalship through a series of certifications and tests. In addition she cares for an elderly mother and two grown sons and in 2012 thought it might be a nice little earner to let out the apartment (where I started, our apartment) to touristos.

We first set eyes on Rita after I rang her to let her know we had driven up and down dozens of narrow streets and lanes trying to find the apartment. She directed my bloke to park in the Piazza near the church while she walked to the same place to meet us. "Hello," she said, sticking her head into the car via the driver's window, "you must-a be-a a-Don?" Salutations we're shared and then, "I- a get into the back of the car and tell for you where to go." With that, like lightning, she was in the car sitting almost on Larissa's lap, providing directions. And so, we met Rita.

When we got into the apartment (through 3 metre high doors opened by the biggest key you've ever seen, then up 37 marble covered steps) Rita took control, showing us around; opening the fridge door to indicate the pesto she had made for us to use over some pasta ('boil for some minutes, and dry completely, only then mix through the pesto and serve with some Parmesan, delic-ee-ous, you will love it.'), showing us the roof top garden off the kitchen which we could use to have some coffee ("I have only the Italian coffee maker, not the American one. You know how to use the Italian one? You need no more than 3 small spoonfuls of coffee and it will be perfect. Just put it on the heat and let the water boil.") or some vino ('I have left a bottle of our white and red wine for you to have, with some olives in zee afternoon, I take it you to the shop to show where you could buy') or maybe an afternoon siesta. By this time I needed one - I was knackered just trying to get all the instructions.

But it wasn't over yet. Rita was very insistent about taking us on a tour of some of the essential places we would need to know about if we were to get the most out of our stay. And this is where we realised that Mazzarino was Rita's town. We were taken to the bar where each morning (if we were to be truly immersed in the culture of Sicily) we should come for our breakfast - "limone granita and brioche and cappuccino". Opposite was the bar where we could go to just for snacks, not coffee. Around the corner we met the owner of the laundromat (lavenderie) who could look after our clothes on Friday. A little further on we met Rita's cousin who owns the best pasticerie in Mazzarino and the place where we should come for our daily brioche with ice cream (glazed sweetened bread roll (to die for!!!) which is halved lengthways and two scoops of ice cream are spread over the dough. In your hand it looks like a mit full but in your mouth it tastes devine. Larissa and I indulged on our second day in Mazzarino; the blokes just couldn't break into the Sicilian macho market so had their ice cream in a small bucket and ate it with spoons - how embarrassing!!!). We then moved on to the delicatessen where Rita introduced us to the proprietor and his staff as well as the delights of three kinds of Sicilian cheese which we tasted along with some salami's made locally - ("do you wish to try this one? It is donkey.").

On our way back to the apartment we walked to the best local cantina, which was not yet open (actually, it had not yet been created. Each night tables are moved onto the narrow lane way, decorative plates are attached to the walls, potted plants are placed around and lattice is situated to separate the cantina from either end of the lane. The transformation is miraculous. The food - traditional Sicilian, is excellent.) and Rita (of course) spoke to an elderly woman sitting outside a closed doorway and we believe she made a booking for "Quattro e otto ora." Certainly when we rocked up at 8.30 that night they were expecting us.

Dinner is worthwhile re-savouring if you would indulge me. No one at the cantina speaks English - and Italian is not our strong suit. We can always manage birre (for her bloke) aqua for mine (and more often than not, Larissa) and vino for me. I even asked for some ice in Italian for my bloke. Then it got tricky. There is no written menu. Our wonderful waitress (later known to us as Blanchete) let us have it in Italian (of course). Before I realised what I had done I "si-d" to the full selection of antipasto. We had frittata, potatoes, mixed meats, breads and about another 5 plates of foods when we then said yes to a secondi of mixed grills. The food was outstanding. We could barely get up from the table when it was all over. We were learning what real non-touristo Sicily is like.

While staying at Mazzarino we drove north a little way to Piazza Armerina to visit a 3rd century AD Roman Villa which has the largest number of original mosaics anywhere in Italy. What a find. This place was sensational - the quality of the mosaics was astounding and the condition of most of them was exceptional. Lots of restoration work ongoing - but the site was quite well managed. We followed this up with a trip into the old town of Piazza Armerina for a bit of a walk around and a visit to the Duomo- the main cathedral of the town. Wonderful. We arrived back to the apartment to find a note from Rita inviting me to look inside the fridge where she had placed the most wonderful birthday cake - a torte like sponge with sweetened ricotta in the centre, icing and lots of chocolate on the outside - looked like a bought one! We went back to the cantina for dinner and Rita joined us for 'happy birthday' singing and some cake. Really truly memorable. Sixty in Sicily!

Another excursion, a little further afield was to Mount Etna. The drive was good with only a few glitches on my part (as the chief navigator - a position which really means I get to hold TomTom) arriving at Refligio Sapienza where we caught a cable car up to the first level, a super sized jeep up to the second level and then the girls walked around the crater. This was a never to be missed day. The landscape was lunar like. Huge boulders lay amongst rocks and gravel of varying sizes. The dark grey coarse-sand- like substance which covered the ground and made walking quite difficult was a combination of ash and lava residue. The complete absence of any vegetation and the only variation in colour was the occasional geological striations of shades of ochre. Some parts of the earth were warm to the touch. Others had steam rising. It was quite eerie. It was nerve wracking to walk along the edge of the crater, in parts less than a couple of meters wide. The guide who accompanied us pointed out lots of things along the way including the fact that there are 300 craters on the site and that before the last eruption (April 2012) where we were standing in front of a massive crater was completely flat. Very interesting indeed.

We were farewelled from Mazzarino by Rita's son Fillipe. As we loaded the car with our luggage, watched by a group of gentlemen onlookers, including one who was so close - staring in disbelief, maybe about the amount of luggage or something else (who knows, he didn't speak) - we knew we had had the privilege of experiencing real life in Sicily. Ciao!

Posted by Dianne Hennessy 21:42 Comments (3)

There is no mafia in Lipari

the Sicilian adventure begins

sunny 32 °C

When Mauritsia came to do business with us it was to act as our tour guide - privato taxi around the island for 80 euro (20 a head). He was prompt, the car was clean and comfortable and air conditioned - it was almost 40 degrees. He provided us with a snapshot of the island - the five villages and their derivations with a charming turn of phrase "there is too much Ficcaro on Lipari" , a statement of great interest to Joseph whose good friend Tony Ficcaro was born on Lipari and recommended our sojourn here. We saw beaches, churches, panoramic views, cactus fruit and of course the life blood of Lipari, the caper plants. We asked Mauritsia if he had a boat and he said he had a small one. We talked a bit about the possibility of organising an excursion on a boat - a half day trip around Lipari and Vulcana.

When we arrived back at the port Don (my bloke) accompanied Maurutisia to meet the skipper of the boat. He noticed the skipper almost jump to attention as Mauritsia approached. When discussions ensued relating to details about our tour and money, it was Mauritsia with whom we dealt. His English was certainly better and negotiations were clear and clean. Skipper and boat booked. All was ready for a great morning on the morrow.

We got to know the name of our skipper as we enjoyed the waters and the scenery around Lipari. Roberto was great. His English was better than my Italian ( there is nothing subtle in that comparison - my Italian is really bad!) but we largely understood each other. He had a cheeky sense of humour and loved his little side jokes with Don about tits and bums (never named of course but definitely inferred) taking great pleasure in getting really close to a sculpture of a bare breasted mermaid atop a rock, winking at Don to gain agreement that 'she was all right'. I saw the contact between the two of them and Roberto just gave me the broadest boyish grin...I could only laugh. It was during one of these periods of non-communication that Roberto told us the boat was....you guessed it...Mauritisia's! It was also during our time together that he said, quite out of the blue "there is no mafia in Lipari...Lipari is good". Mafia may have been absent but there are always those who remain in charge.

This little excursion was a highlight of our time in Lipari. Seeing the island from totally different perspective and enjoying the the time afloat was a sheer delight. The Mediterranean was crystal clear, unpolluted and enhanced by the breeze that kept us cool.

Going to Lipari was a stroke of genius. Each day Larissa and I walked the streets in the early morning sharing the town with the fishermen, the rubbish collectors, other sunrise workers and the old men who gathered each day in their favourite bar or caffe to have their first coffee of the day, meet their friends and no doubt solve problems both domestic and national. The narrow alley ways and the cobble stones lead us into areas we would never have seen in any other way or at any other time. We were attracted on one morning to the sound of female voices singing. We followed the sound to find a tiny tiny church with no more than 6 nuns sitting still, facing the altar. The song in the stillness of the morning was magical and filled the alleyway. This was one of those moments in travelling which stay with you always even when there are no photographs to trigger reminders.

Lipari offered surprises around every corner, sometimes by getting lost in the heat of the day, others while swimming in the hotel pool and being reminded of the idyllic surroundings, and others while meeting people. When it was time for us to pack our bags and make our way to the ferry we spoke of our wonderful good fortune to have visited one of the Aeolian Sisters.

Posted by Dianne Hennessy 21:38 Comments (1)

When in Italy...

If the driving doesn't kill you then the kindness will

32 °C

Car collected - fabulous Peugeot 508 station wagon - black - required 15 points of a three point turn because of the way it was parked - to the amzement of the dozen or so Italians who came from nowhere to see this feat, we set off without a scratch. The young man who spent 5 minutes showing us the intricacies of the car left well satisfied hearing my 'grazie' and my blokes 'oh yeah?'. I was well pleased with all the advice, I wasn't driving. And how hard can it be to drive on the other side of the road? Have you driven in Italy? Do you know any Italian road rules? No, I didn't think so... Most people avoid it ..and there are none!

We've done really well so far: ended up on the wrong side of road - 3 times; driven towards oncoming traffic - once; almost lost the right hand side mirror - once; managed roundabouts - every time !!! There's this special trick that my bloke has when changing lanes, or turning left or turning right - he uses his windscreen wipers. We think it's very Italian, because they don't use blinkers either. We have had some very quick learning about driving in Italy which I am happy to share with you should you need it later on:
(i) roads are often quite narrow but this never stops drivers parking cars and taking up an entire lane. Lesson to our driver - be aggressive and take command of what's left of the road, if we're lucky we get through
(ii) the narrower the road the more determined are the locals to conduct their normal lives which includes - running on the roadside and staring down any car daring to take up running space, walking the dog on the road, meeting up with neighbours and old friends and family on the road bringing traffic to a complete standstill
(iii) stop signs are absolutely optional, mostly ignored
(iv) communicating via car horns is not optional, it's a national past time
(v) unbroken lines on the road are there to indicate to oncoming cars that overtaking will occur but at a greater speed
(vi) there is an art to overtaking. Points are awarded for coming as close as possible to the car in front both at the start and end of the overtaking process. Additional points are awarded depending on ther number of metres between the overtaking car and oncoming traffic. These guidleines are followed by all; the more expensive the car the bolder the driver - I think that is Italian machismo!

To date we have driven 500 kms from Rome to Scalea and then to Reggio Calabria where we caught a car ferry over to Messina. From there we drove not too far to Milazzo where our car is currently in long term secure parking while we enjoy the Aeolian Islands, in particular, Lipari.

Scalea is a small town to which Italians (and interestingly enough, Russians) flock for their summer holidays. It sits right on the coast line well south of Salerno. There is very little English spoken anywhere but we managed to be understood. Even the Nonna who served us breakfast did so using gestures associated with words. The old town set our imaginations on fire - we walked narrow lane ways on cobbled paths, up and down uneven steps passing by ancient and old three storey houses, some newly renovated others desperately in need of repair; these I'm sure have been deserted. Scalea is the home of the pepper. Larissa was photographed with hundreds of them for sale.

photo 11

photo 11

Don also found some cheese for sale but this time he controlled himself and just looked. Actually this was the night we arrived, I think he was too tired to even think about buying anything.

photo 10

photo 10

Walking to the beach in Scalea requires careful footwork. Sand as we know it in Australia does not exist, instead we walked on coarse stones - large and small. I'm a bit of a whinger when it comes to my feet so I was more than happy to abandon this escapade and retreat to solid ground. But attention could not be detracted from the Mediterranean Sea - clear, cold and blue. The beach was an entrepreneurs delight. Divided into sections providing rows of unbrellas and lay back chairs available to anyone at a price (10 euro a day). The sun lovers flocked to them. When a boat was to be launched or removed form the water everyone knew because from out of nowhere came the beach tractor with it's crane and sling for lifting and transporting boats - amazing! The superviser of this process was clearly an expert who got right into the water to fit the sling to ensure the boat suffered no damage. My guess is he was paid well for his skills.

photo 3

photo 3

Please check out some of our early photos in the photo gallery.

Posted by Dianne Hennessy 07:14 Comments (4)

And after the planning there is the waiting

The prequel

sunny 25 °C

Months in the planning, finances sorted, group meetings held (with sighs and looks between partnerships saying more than the polite conversations - we are ready for Italy!) the countdown to departure is underway. Emails have abounded between the the two partnerships; Larissa is the planner in her unit, my bloke in mine. When to get to Rome we will collect our leased Peugeot 508 which is a station wagon sort of car. The car has been the topic of very deep dialogue at one of our meetings. The size of the luggage compartment was measured (thanks to a young Peugeot salesman in Parramatta who was not fooled by our story about buying the car when my bloke asked him for a tape so he could measure the boot) and centimetres allocated. Debate ensued about the placement of carry-on luggage - in the boot or sharing the allocated seating space within (easy for him, he'll be the primary driver so I know where his carry on will end up!) -but the decision was reached and there should be plenty of room for all luggage in the boot! Most accommodation has been booked along with some essentials like the car ferry which will take us on the 19 hour trip from Sicily to northern Italy. The accommodation will no doubt provide hours of discussion along the way as photographs and reviews are compared with our own experiences, which will of course be shared with you, our blog readers. We are good friends, the girls and the blokes...we are all looking forward to this trip...our idiosyncrasies will be tested...those inclined for control (my bloke) may have to relinquish here and there...but in the end the joy will be in the journey.

Posted by Dianne Hennessy 22:18 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

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