Category Archives: Diary Aug 09 – Aug 10
- Taking candles, unlit, from the crowd. Some of these are lit and placed at the back in a holder. Some are not lit and placed in other racks or bins.
- Taking flowers which are placed around the base of the shrine.
- Giving out single flowers to anyone who asks for them. These do not appear to be the same flowers that are taken on board yet there seems to be no lack of space for flowers taken in and no shortage of flowers to give out.
- Giving out pictures of Sant’ Agata.
- Taking in donations of money, usually €5 notes.
- The power can only be delivered in a straight line. If they went round a curve, the final point before the shrine turned would have but a very few devotees able to apply pull.
- More probably, the whole cortege would be dragged into cutting the corner and there are buildings it would collide with.
Our stop at Sabbadore, just North of Avola had some interesting aspects. The guide book warned that the last 500m of the approach was narrow and winding. That was an understatement! What they didn’t think to mention was that when you did arrive at the camp entrance, it is too narrow to turn in. In our attempt to do so, we concentrated so much on the front that we failed to see that the back was swinging round onto a wall and now we are missing some gelcoat. Grrr.
However, I just love to boast so I will add that when the owner’s son came out and suggested we back up to another gate back down the lane we did as instructed. He came running up to me and said “That is the best bit of driving I have seen here in 20 years!!!” It seems that he is a retired racing driver and everybody else who had been invited to back up with trailers had bounced off the walls. What he didn’t know, of course, was that we had done that before he came out!
The site was in process of major refurbishment so the facilities weren’t up to much. But the site is in a wonderful position.
Liz has already selected the pitch she wants for our next visit – and says that won’t be very far in the future…
We only stayed the one night at Sabbiadore as we had promised to return to Jonio, Catania on the Sunday.
Having left Avalo in sunshine, driven through a rainstorm around Siracusa, we were delighted to arrive at Catania in sunshine again. Even better, we found no-one parked at the sea edge and our ideal place awaited us not to mention the “old friends” welcome from both staff and several campers we had met before. It seems that the previous week, they had had some very strong winds from the East which had brought the breaking waves over the top of the sea wall – carrying large stones with them. Everyone had moved back from the sea wall that week and Gunther, who had been where we wanted to be said he wasn’t going to risk his precious Cathago van until the middle of February. Nice decision, Gunther!
Monday and Tuesday have been spent chatting, getting enough shopping in to last the Sant’ Agata festival period and preparing our strategy for the said festival. Apart from Gunther, there is a Dutch couple who were here for Christmas with us; another British couple we haven’t met before; a French Canadian couple who were next to us in Rome and June & Lars who were here at Christmas and also went to Scarebeo the day after we went there. There is another British couple here from somewhere in the North but we haven’t had time to say hello to them yet. The Canadian fellow & I had an hilarious shopping trip out to get stuff from the Media World here – his first time in a Smart car and his first introduction to Catanian driving. I think he had an early night…
It all felt a bit like coming home.
Noto is known as the “Baroque City”. It is another rock-top town but was flattened in an earthquake in 1693. So they rebuilt it in the baroque style in a few years, finishing in about 1750. The result is a whole town in one style!
It sits about 17 miles South-West of Siracusa in the middle of nowhere in particular.
We enjoyed an afternoon wandering around the town and seeing the ancient edifices – many of them alive and well! The town seemed to have more than it fair share of octogenarians who sit around taking the micky out of all and sundry but mostly each other.
Many of the buildings are being refurbished on EU money and the glorious golden yellow makes them look as if they were built yesterday. This stone is the local sandstone and is very soft indeed – good for cleaning up but one has to wonder how they have lasted as long as they have.
We came across a model of the cathedral made entirely out of straw, I think. It had apparently been made to celebrate the local harvest festival.
For those who would like to get a flavour of the place, there is the usual collection of unsorted piccies at http://tinyurl.com/yjztwrj
Lunch out is a fairly rare treat. Budgets, and all that! Actually, Scicily is pretty reasonable for most things and eating out is not the bank-breaking event that it would be further North.
We took advice from our campsite hostess and set off to the first recommendation. Sadly full to bursting.
The next, La Masseria, is some 5 miles from – well anywhere really. It is in the middle of a working farmyard with all the country smells that this implies. However, the restaurant is known for supplying all its own food including meat, so perhaps this was to be expected.
Our first attempt to get into the restaurant landed up in a fairly large cow barn surrounded by tractors. We did manage to find the right door eventually and were welcomed very warmly into the busy dining room.
The first thing that struck us was the long table with 30 people sat around it. Clearly this was a special family occassion for somebody.
The patrone was undertaking most of the menial tasks, like laying up tables and clearing away. It was apparent that although he was the patron, the actual running of the place was firmly in the hands of his daughters and other female family members. I guess he would have had a good day if he didn’t get too severely reprimanded for failing in his duties.
It was a set 4 course menu. How civilised the Italians are – note the line following the Antipasti section! Where else would they have such an understanding of the clients needs?
The non-smokers amongst you may feel that such a break is of no benefit but you would be wrong! By the time we had eaten the Antipasta, we would have been happy to call it a meal and leave – we were full. So a 15 minute walk around the farm yard was almost essential to prepare for the next three courses.
Antipasti included Bruschetta, Focaccia with tomato and with ricotta and sausage, cheese, olives and chickpeas. Then two types of pasta – with ricotta and herbs and Masseria sauce – tomato based. Then sausage and roast meat with a green salad, then the piece de resistance, Ravioli fritti di ricotta, sugary covered hot ricotta puffs with the taste of freshly fried doughnuts.
The atmosphere was wonderful. With diners ranging from great grandparents down to babies, there was not a cross word and the children happily ran around all over the place bringing everyone into the extended family feel.
The main party was celebrating the 80th birthday of this gentleman.
We did eventually finish our meal, after about three hours…
Then we came to pay the bill. I was handed a bill for €36 and I offered €40 to recieve a €5 note in change. OK, so they knocked off the €1 and I figured that €5 would be a reasonable tip so I pushed it back to the patron with a thanks.
He looked at me as if I were crazy and then realised that I was offering a tip and laughed. “No, we don’t do that here!”, he said.
I think we have just found the only place in Europe where the restauranteur tips the customer! We retired to bed for the rest of the afternoon feeling as if we could go several days without eating again.
Ben (eldest son) arrived to stay with us on Christmas Eve. He flew Alitalia from Heathrow with very little fuss or delay. He came Club Class and passed on a useful tip. Apparently, seat prices are based on demand level. At holiday times such as Christmas Evev, there are many wanting Economy Class but few wanting Business Class. Net result, his Club Class ticket was less than Economy!
Ben joined Julyan in the “Spare Room” – after a hasty bit of clearing up!
We decided to have Christmas Lunch in the campsite restaurant. Now this is not a question of allowing the Sicillians to serve a suitable meal and turning up to eat it. This was a guided menu by the three Brits on site. After all, we know how it should be done, don’t we?
We got the ball rolling by putting the idea to the management, who took it up with enthusiasm. Guiseppe immediately offered a menu.
At this point, our neighbour, June, took on the correction of the proposed menu. She is a Brit married these many years to a Swedish farmer living in Gotland. June explained the essential core must be stuffed Turkey and that Christmas Pudding is essential.
The turkey was no problem and Guiseppe duly ordered one. Stuffing was not in the Sicilian repetoire so June volunteered to make it and apply it to the bird. This was fine until the bird arrived on Christmas Eve. Guiseppe had ordered a 10Kg bird. What was delivered was a 16Kg bird – boneless! This presented June with the problem of how to stuff a boneless turkey and Guiseppe with severe doubts about it fitting in his oven. However, on the day, June went and managed to sew the bird back together around the stuffing and the thing was negotiated into Guiseppe’s humidifying oven.
June had a 1Kg Christmas pudding and we persuaded Ben to bring another with him. Guiseppe was still insisting that the final course would be Cassata. Patrick took on the task of making the Brandy Butter.
Liz ordered crackers from Lakeland in the UK which duly arrived. She had half with the balloons that you make funny animals out of, and half with musical whistles that each diner blows on cue to make a tune (musical score supplied). It appears that June had made two annual attempts to bring crackers to Italy but they had always been confiscated as explosive devices so she was delighted that Liz had found the way.
Guiseppe brought his entire family along including his very elderley parents-in-law and three delightful daughters.
There were about 10 happy campers to make up the party.
We were very impressed with the tolerance as assorted Brits wandered in and out of their kitchen demanding working space, utensils and attention. It seemed just fine with all concerned.
The meal started with 3 types of vegetables cooked in different ways, followed by a sort of giant Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach. The turkey was then brought in cut in enormous 1cm slices, roast potatoes, stuffing and a sort of ham roll which most of us were too full to eat. This was then folloed by the Christmas Pudding which Patrick made several attempts to get to the table still flaming. Guiseppe made it work by following him into the restaurant with an enormous spoon of hot brandy which he poured and lit on arrival. This process caused considerable amusement amongst the non-Brits but was sampled by almost everyone. Finally came the Cassata. This was delicious creamy sort of cross between a cheesecake and a Panatone.
We left the meal hardly able to walk and spent most of the rest of the day very quietly or sleeping.
Julyan went home on Boxing day and Ben left the day after.
The day Ben left, first Patrick and then Liz went down with extreme colds. These took over a week to recover from. We were extremly grateful for Ben’s Christmas present of full boxed sets of Prime Suspect, Brideshead Revisited, The Office and Porridge. We watched several hours of these day after day whilst we coughed and sniffed. What a wonderfully timed present…
We were aware of the New Year celebrations going on around us. The Sicillians appear to have a love affair with fireworks. For at least two weeks leading up to Christmas, there seemed to be a series of firework parties every night. On New Years Eve the place seemed to explode over a 4 hour period. From our seaside position, we could see them in all directions along the bay. A wonderful sight indeed.
On leaving Rome, we intended to spend a few days at Pompei and to see Naples. By the time we actually got on the road, we decided that we couldn’t face it as we hadn’t got the energy to spend more time sightseeing. We wanted to get somewhere warmer and to settle down for a month or so.
We covered the journey from Rome to Sicily in one go – all 500+ miles of fairly unmemorable motorway. Yes, we did look at Vesuvius as we passed but, apart from promising to go back on the way North in the Spring, we took no heed of its presence.
Ferry from San Giovanni to Messina
We spent a night in a service station just outside San Giovanni so that we could do the last part of the journey in daylight.
As we drew into the port, a man came up to us and asked for details of the vehicle. We told him that the van was 7.6 meters, weighed 5 tons and that the trailor was another 4.4 meters and weighed about 1.5 tons. We told him we were British and that we were two adults. He wrote all this down and then said he could give us a discount and wrote on a piece of paper “5m” and showed it to us. Thinking he was the official ticket man, we just nodded acceptance of whatever he said. At this point he indicated that we should draw forward in front of the ticket office and get out to pay for the ticket. He came with us to the ticket window and explained rapidly to the rather tired looking man inside that he had agreed a discount for us. The ticket was issued and E60 was paid. Now we had heard from some friends who had a slightly larger van but no trailer that the crossing had cost them E75. We seemed to be getting away cheap so when the original man then asked for a E5 tip, we paid without questioning the process. Indeed, no-one questioned the loading of our 12m rig on a ticket that said 5m. Quite how this arrangement happens, we have no idea!
The trip across was quick at about 20 minutes but it was obvious why this stretch of water is said to be the busiest channel in the world for shipping. There must have been a dozen ferries crossing the path of all the merchant and passenger traffic that passes between North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean and the West coast of Italy. There is a lot of it.
A short trip down the coast took us out of the rather uninspiring town of Messina, under the spectacular towns of Taormina and Castel Mola (of which more later) and on to Camping Jonio in Catania. We had decided that this could be our initial Sicillian resting place because of its proximity to the airport, Mt Etna and the busy city of Catania, where we thought our Christmas visitors would find things to see and do, rather than just looking over a beach in the middle of nowhere.
One look was enough. The campsite is small and a little cramped. It is in need of some maintenance but is also right on the rocky seaside as well as being no more than 2 miles from the city centre. In fact, we have been told that last year, during a storm, the waves put the lower part of the site (where we are) underwater and everybody had to be evacuated.
The view from the van window is looking towards the Lebanon. I get great amusement from looking at the ships going to and fro and being able to look at http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/ to see what they are, where they are going to and have come from. Maybe it is a bit like trainspotting but, hey, what’s wrong with that?
The Festival of Santa Lucia at Siracuse, an hour’s trip South, proved to be a fascinating event. Held in December, it is not done to amuse the tourists but is a genuine local celebration. St Lucia, a local martyr, is now kept in edifice as an enormous silver statue which is taken round the old city every year with much pomp and ceremony. The thing weighs a considerable amount and even with 30+ porters can only be moved about 10 yards at a time with a five minute rest between movings. Since she is carried about 2 miles, it takes from midday till late evening to complete the pageant.
It was a matter of some surprise as we found our way to the starting piazza that the first people we met were Lars & June, our Swedish neighbours at Catania! We had a good day occasionally meeting up with the procession but also exploring the rest of the old city, finally landing up eating roast chestnuts in the dark but crowded streets before coming home.
One day, we were invited to attend a demonstration about cooking fish Sicillian style in the campsite kitchens. Liz attended to cooking bit
and we all enjoyed the proceeds. There were six different fish: Griddled squid salad; Fried Calamari; Mascolini as ‘Sicilian Sushi’; Pasta with Swordfish & Prawn sauce; Spatole; Griddled Trout (Liz thinks). All this in a mixture of Italian, English, Dutch, Swedish & German – it was delicious.
Julyan & Georgia
These two came out to spend a bit of their Christmas holiday with us. Of course there had to be a real Mediterranean storm that day so they put down in Palermo before coming on to Catania about 4 hours late. They couldn’t believe how close we were to the sea and the enormous waves but, by then, they the crashing surf couldn’t keep them awake.
By this time, we had become used to Catania and took great pleasure in taking them into the chaos via the famous fish market.
where they were offered unidentified raw fish to sample.
The city is not a pretty place. It has a few wide and majestic streets with the big shops but for the most part is run down almost to the point of dereliction. There are some 500,000 people living here and almost all of them seem to be out in their cars on most days. It is very live. It has an air of relaxed excitement and chaos and is almost irresistable! Double and even treble parking are common but you can always find a parking place – just draw up onto the hatched areas on the road or the pavement!
The largest active volcano in Europe, Etna is always there but doesn’t actually seem to dominate the town even though its summit is a mere 17 miles from the town centre.
It has many moods and most of them are unpredictable. Julyan had every intention of skiing on it but had sprained his ankle. We had to go up and have a look at it, of course. The day we chose was sunny and clear with a sealevel temperature of about 18 degrees. As we climbed up the 2000 meters (by car!) the temperature dropped to about zero, with a biting wind. It was damned cold up there and we couldn’t go up the rest of the way to the summit as the cable car was closed because of the wind!!!
We didn’t see it ourselves, unfortunately, but Etna was apparently spitting out sparks one night while we were here.
Taormina & Castel Mola
From Etna, we drove down to look at Taormina and Castel Mola, two towns perched improbably on a rocky promontory to the East of the mountain.
Many photographs were taken except, in a drastic error of navigation, we drove up the mountain to the very top of Castel Mola, way beyond the “residents only” signs, where none of us had steady enough hands to take them!
We learnt about bagpipes made of whole sheep. We were entertained by a local rock band. Although a town that earns its living from the tourists at other times of the year, it is unquestionably picturesque and we were almost the only non-Italians there.
Georgia returns to UK – just about…
A nightmare! The flight from Catania on Monday 21st December was cancelled because of bad weather and the next BA flight was not until Saturday (Boxing Day). The first task was contacting BA in London who arranged for her to go via Alitalia to Rome and then BA from there on the Tuesday. On presenting herself at the check-in, it turned out that the ticket had not been issued. However, the plane was very late departing and this allowed time to get that sorted out and off she went. Although late, the flight to Gatwick was also late and she just managed the connection in Rome. On arrival at Gatwick, she learned that her bag had not been so lucky. On top of that, she had missed her Megabus to Sheffield and she was too late to catch a train either. The only hotel able to put her up was the Gatwick Hilton at a cost of £150. At least they gave her a free upgrade to a 3-room suite. Just to make life even more difficult, her phone was running low on charge by this time and, of course, the charger is in her missing bag. Still no bags on the following morning so she had to get the train without it to get back to Sheffield. Poor Georgia, but she did seem to be able to keep cheerful despite it all. And BA are responsible for all the extra costs. Sometimes it pays to use scheduled carriers!