Category Archives: Sicily

A Visit to the Market – Not for the Squeamish!

Sunday is market day at the small port in Catania. I hate to see my food looking anything like it did when it was alive but I also have to know what I am looking at and I just love the colours and images at a place like this, So I took the camera for a walk hoping that some of you more knowledgeable people can tell me what I saw. This fella in the Nike hat also had the same thoughts, I reckon.
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I assume that A, B and G are all some sort of Squid but they all look different.
C & D are clearly flat fish but that is far as I can get though maybe D is Skate?
On the basis that anything that looks like a marine worm is an Eel, I am going to guess that covers E & F but I only recognise the jellied variety.
Is H an ugly fish? That has to be true…
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I am fairly sure Liz had I for dinner last night. She said they were squid so maybe G is Octopus.
J look to me like those fish that leap out of the sea when you least expect them and K is much too pretty to be eaten! But maybe there are two different models in that box?
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The Snr L was making a lot of mess with whatever M is. Cuttlefish? But why the enormous knife?
I am fairly confident that N is either a prawn or a large shrimp and I know that P is Anchovies. Is O Mackeral?
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Q has to be an Octopus but R is something else again (see insert) but is very popular and expensive at €25/kilo but saying that it is “new born baby” neither encourages me to buy it nor tells me who or what the parents are..  No doubt about what S is but some doubt in my mind as to what one might do with the sword bit…
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The box of fish in T are a complete mystery to me. They may be just assorted odds and fins. U is undoubtedly Oyster which, at €8 the kilo, must be a bargain. The mussels at €3/kilo look good and taste good in a risotto.
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Common cockles or clams seem to be the same things. At €10/kilo suggests they may not be local. The pink ones marked X didn’t have a price and that, I suspect, is no mistake. Then we come to Y. This must be some sort of seaweed that requires a lemon. I always thought that Chinese Seaweed that you get from the take-away was really fried cabbage but now I am not so sure!
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These two, Z & a, I know about. We eat a lot of Anchovies in the Z form but not sure we could cope with the salt they stuff into the barrels. Just how long does it take to stuff a full barrel so neatly?
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We have seen the Urchins at “b” before but “c” and “d” are still confusing me. The latter feature strongly in every fish restaurant of note in the area.
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These are just for local colour!
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“e” is labeled Telline which my dictionary says is clams or Vongole but these look larger than W above. Could it be that Clams are large cockles?
At least the olives are obvious and the cauliflower, whilst painted purple must be just that.
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Ignore the ubiquitous sword fish and the squash. What are the multi-coloured veg at “f” for heavens sake? Do you think you just boil them?
Ok. Enough of the market. Isn’t it interesting that it is at the local markets that you become painfully aware of the culinary isolation that even the sophisticates among us suffer?
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How to make a real Pizza

There is, of course, a good reason why I travelled 1,827 miles from Halifax to Catania, Sicily.
It was not the Winter sunshine. It was not even the chance to visit Salzburg, Venice, Rome or even Naples on the way.
It was the chance to learn how Sicilians make a pizza!
The venue for this discovery of the secrets was the Restaurant Jonio at Camping Jonio in Catania under the regime of Antionetta.
For those of you who are unaware, the pizza originated in Sicily, if not in Catania itself. S it is here we had to come to learn the secret of the perfect pizza base.
Should it be thick or thin? What flour is correct? Do you have to have one of those ovens that look as if they were really designed to house small bats?
 
First, Antoinetta introduced us to the ingredients.
 
1Kg 00 Grano Tenero
1Kg Semola Rimacinato Grano Duro
100 grams Unsalted butter
650ml Water
1 tablespoonful dried yeast
1 tablespoonful Salt
1 tablespoonful Sugar
2 tablespoonsful Olive oil (Extra Virgin, what else is there?)
 
The mixed flour is important as the soft 00 flour provides the mixing properties that deliver a truly elastic dough whilst the hard grain semolina flour provides the lightness.
All the ingredients are blended together by machine for about 20 minutes. Antoinetta saw no advantage in doing this by hand – it just tires you out!
Having said that, the next stage was to take the 3Kg lump of dough and to beat it into submission on a bench.
I am not clear why but Antoinetta’s enthusiasm for this violence did not encourage me to be seen to enquire if it was necessary…
 
Antoinetta beats the dough into submission. Who was she thinking of...?
 
The dough was then parcelled up by weight; in this case 1 Kg lumps, before being placed on teflon-coated trays to rise.
 
Risen dough
 
The trays were left in an unheated cupboard for around 2 hours to rise. The ambient temperature would have been about 22°C.
While we waited for the dough to rise, we discussed the great mystery of how we had seen less than three kilograms of ingredients weighed out to make 6 1Kg balls of dough.
Clearly, there was a secret of Italian cuisine that was not being shared with us and, perhaps, this was why pizza was such a staple of the country’s take-away industry…
Sadly, the truth was prosaic in the extreme. While we hadn’t been paying attention, Antoinetta had mixed a second batch of dough!
 
Now should have been the point where I was to learn the spinning dough trick. The flashy bit when the chef spins the dough ever thinner by throwing the dough in the air using centrifugal force to do the work.
Sadly, Antoinetta just laughed at me when I asked if this was not part of the procedure.
 
Spreading the base. No fancy twirls here.
 
However, the spreading out of the dough on the oven trays, by merely pushing it about by hand, did give me a chance to hide behind a pillar and ask which was better, thin base or thick base?
I got my answer in the manner which owed more to Joyce Grenfell than Delia Smith. If you eat pizza in Sicily, where pizza was invented, it will be thin base. In the North of Italy you will get thick base. Clearly, the reason for Tuscany believing that thick base was a good idea was sheer ignorance on their part.
 
The pomodore is spread with care and contemplation.
 
Now the tomato paste is spread on the dough.
I knew that it would be important to discover the ingredients of this concoction and asked her.
Again, the response brought into question the wisdom of me being allowed out without benefit of a collar and lead, “Pomadori – tomatoes, eh?”
The tomato covered dough bases were now put in the oven warmed to 200°C and cooked for about 20 minutes before the strange ritual of what I could only see as checking the baby’s bottom.
 
The super oven is stacked and ready to go
 
After about 20 minutes, Antoinetta would open the oven door and lift a corner of the pizza to check the colour of the bottom. Only when it reached a golden brown were they taken out for the remaining ingredients to be added.
Let me make it clear that the oven being used here was no ordinary domestic affair. This beast is about twice the size of the cooking cavern. The remainder is taken up by a boiler full of water which enables the oven to mix heat and steam.
In the case of the pizzas, Antoinetta assured me that no unfair tactics were being employed and the steam capability was not being used.
 
When it comes to the toppings, I got the impression that the way was to add whatever you fancied – or had left over in your fridge or larder. The topping is just an incidental add-on. The important part is the cooking of the base. That was now complete.
 
Corgettes - they even look nice!Egs, ham & mushrooms - of courseMozzarella ready fo use
Gabriella applies the ham under Dutch supervisionAntoinetta applies the corgettesGabriella moves on to eggs
 
For the ubiquitous Margherita, all that is required is Mozzarella cheese and a dusting of Parmesan.
 
First the Mozzarellaand then the Parmesannot forgetting the Oregano
 
And don’t forget the Organo!
 
Anything that is put on top of the pizza base is already cooked so the last stage of warming the whole pizza is simply a matter of getting things up to serving temperature.
 
The final warming in the super oven
 
before being taken to the table and enjoyed by the assembled students of the day…
 
The students of Camping Jonio have enjoyed the fruits of Antoinetta and Gabriell's labours. With our encouragement, of course.
 
Mi dispiace, something must have distracted me from taking a photo of the meal before we had eaten it!

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Francesco Cafiso

Francesco Cafiso at the Teatro Massimo Bellini
 
I am not a great fan of modern jazz, preferring the traditional fare. But our Swedish neighbour suggested we joined a party to visit the Teatro Massimo Bellini on Monday night.
Now the theatre itself is a magnificent building that is well worth a visit just for its architecture:
 
Photo stolen from Cicciofarmaco on Flkr. Thanks
 
The inside is even more impressive.
Built with neither circle or upper circle, it has five levels of, in effect, boxes. They rise from the flat auditorium floor vertically to be topped by the upper gallery.
 
Photo stolen from Corinasicily on Flikr. Thanks.
 
View of stage from rear of auditorium
 
Photo stolen from Umbattista on Flikr. Thanks.
 
The rear of the auditorium
 
Photo stolen from Misscharo on Flikr. Thanks.
Part of the ceiling.
 
The concert we went to see featured Francesco Cafiso, a 22 year old saxophonist who started playing in concerts all over Europe at the age of 9. He is self taught although he has since been taught to Master standard to play the Flute. He won the World Saxophone Competition at the London Jazz Festival in 2004 when he was just 16. He was also a guest musician at President Obama’s inauguration.
 
Photo of Francesco Cafiso stolen from Italia.allaboutjazz.com. Thanks.
 
As if this were not enough talent, the lad also writes his own compositions, three of which we were to hear that night.
At one point he played a solo where he sounded to be playing a duet with one instrument responding to the other in a different voice and yet he was the only saxophonist on the stage and he had only one saxophone!
 
All of this in a setting with the most superb acoustics was a pleasure indeed.
 
After the concert we were treated to a short guided walk around the center of the city by Guiseppe and his wife followed by him cooking an impromptu supper back at the campsite – spaghetti al’ olio in huge quantities.
The cost of this evening? Just €13 a head and a round of drinks at the Irish Pub.

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The Elephant of Catania

The Elephant of Catania

Every city has its emblem. Catania has an elephant:
 
Photo stolen from Peter J Bury on Flikr. Thanks.
 
And the elephant stands proudly in the center of the central square of the city, the Piazza Duomo,
Statue de l'éléphant à Catane .jpg stolen from dullhunk on Flikr. Thanks.
and he looks very fine indeed!
 
Now, I say “he”, because if you go round the back, you will see that it is very obviously a “he”.
Original photo by xtaxta on Flikr - slightly modified. Thanks.

But those who know about elephants as a breed will tell you that this is anatomically incorrect because a male elephant does not have testicles on the outside; he modestly carries them internally.
 
So what happened to the Elephant of Catania?
 
Well there are two stories.
 
1. When the elephant was erected, the men of Catania were very distressed because the gender of their city mascot was unclear and had the “missing” element added on.
2. The memory of the artist, having returned from viewing an African elephant, proved not to be accurate and he invented what he knew must be there.
 
Either way, Catania’s elephant is very special and may be the only mammal on earth with a spare set of testicles, assuming that the original set are present internally.
 
In recognition of this special status, my informant, Snr Guiseppe Svengali BSc (Catania), tells me that every July the students rally round and ceremoniously wash the external extras.
 
Now you know about The Elephant of Catania.
And I hope you will thank me for avoiding all the many jokes like “Is this a load of…” and “Maybe this is the reason a male elephant is called a…”

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St. Agata


The Festival of Sant’ Agata is judged to be the second largest festival in Europe, closely following the chasing of bulls around the streets somewhere in Spain.
The underlying principle is that Sant’ Agata’s relics are taken around the town once a year. This is achieved by mounting her shrine on a large sledge, which is then dragged by her devotees through the streets over a three-day period.

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The first thing that we should be aware of is that this combination weighs a few tons and, since it is on skids rather than wheels, takes a considerable amount of pulling. Fortunately, the streets of Catania are mostly made of lava blocks which can stand the wear better than tarmac would do. This material is courtesy of nearby Mount Etna which is still spitting the stuff out from time to time, keeping the locals well supplied with building materials. Just as well since it also destroys a few every time it erupts.
There are well in excess of 5,000 devotees of all ages, men,women, boys and girls. They all wear white gowns, white gloves and black caps.

These two must be related! I hope that he will pass his beard trimming skills to his son in due course. I think this young man had just been given the medal he is wearing around his neck. The youngest devotees have difficulty reaching the rope but at this head end there are a number of short thin tails with handles to keep the rope end organised.

The whole atmosphere is very much of family and friends
The shrine sledge has two heavy ropes, probably 100 meters long, tied on the front for them to pull.
The normal pace is a very slow walk.
The shrine is stopped at various points of significance where the shrine crew continue their normal tasks:
    • 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.
At each stopping place, the senior priest delivers a brief prayer and sermon using a PA system which is deployed around the crowd. This is followed by a blessing before moving on to the next stopping place.
As the procession continues, the lead priest delivers blessings. It is not clear as to whether he looks for eye contact with an individual who seems to want a blessing or whether he delivers whenever he feels appropriate. Either way, a blessing is delivered about every few minutes.

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On the front of the shrine cart, sits a man who looks much more serious than any of his colleagues and I surmise that he is the “mule” driver in charge of controlling the logistics.

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He has good reason to look serious as his task is not an easy one – in fact I have no idea how he does it.
For a start, there are corners. Now the devotees could just come to a corner and go round it. But this would not work on two counts:
    • 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.
The solution is that the devotees go past the corner and stop when the shrine is at the corner. They then walk back with the ropes and re-extend them in the new direction. The shrine is re-aligned by other devotees and progress can be made.
Given that there are up to 5,000 mules, most of whom are wandering off and chatting to friends, having coffee or talking on their mobile phones, how does he tell them when to start or stop? It just seemed to happen without any means of obvious communication!

The only communication seemed to be when a devotee would suddenly turn round and shout back to the shrine. I guess this was an inspirational vow of allegiance or prayer to Sant’ Agata. Whenever this happened, one or two people near him or her would hug or hold him or her while the prayer was shouted. These events occurred every few minutes and were either met with applause from the crowd, a chant from the other devotees or a song (hymn?).

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I visited this event in the company of Lars, a mischievous Swedish farmer (in the green jacket), whose first interaction on arrival was to offer this gentleman €50 for his hat! On being turned down, he tried for the next policeman. Again no luck but later I took the second photo which I think proves that Lars was being closely watched from that point onwards…

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The final night celebrations are an all night affair in the grand manner.
The procession starts on its journey at about 6pm arriving at the top of the town around 5am where a massive firework display is given before they complete the other half of the journey. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t manage to last the course even till the firework display, much less the finish line.

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The streets are decorated with lights and banners. The street surface is spread with saw dust in copious quantities to provide a sure footing and to keep as much or the wax off the cobbles as possible.
The procession is led by the candle bearers. We are talking about large, heavy candles here…

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carried through the milling crowds, mostly in teams. They do the journey in short spurts with one member of the team trying to get onlookers out of the way by shouting “Attenzione”. You quickly learn to watch out for them as being thumped by one of these would, at best, leave you with covered in enough wax on your clothes to make you into your own personal candle. Why there weren’t spontaneous combustions of the public is one of the many mysteries surrounding the event.
At various points on the route, there are churches and effigies of St Agata. These are honoured by the candle-bearers with prayer and chants.

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This is a young man’s thing, though we did see a few women candle-bearers and children carrying smaller candles.
This bearer had clearly got too close to the flame, but spirits were definitely up for all except the few who had been overambitious in their choice of candle.

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Next came the candelore. These are made of wood, intricately carved and gilded, around 6 meters high and heavy.

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Each is moved about 20 meters in turn and represents a guild. Some guilds have dropped out over the years so these are the last 11 paraded.
The carrying team appears to have four weight bearers with sacking headgear designed to share the weight between the head and the shoulders. There are two who carry the shafts and guide the move as well as carrying weight. Then there are men either side whose job it is to keep the structure upright.

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The convoy is impressive and the center of a lot of attention.

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Finally St Agata’s shrine is pulled by the enormous team of around 5,000 devotees.

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Many hours of the spectacular is shown live on television so even those who cannot attend can join in the celebration.

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Home to Catania for Agatha

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.

Avola pitch

Avola pitch

Liz has already selected the pitch she wants for our next visit – and says that won’t be very far in the future…

Avola Beach

Avola Beach

Liz's ideal pitch for next time...

Liz's ideal pitch for next time...

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.

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Baroque Central – aka Noto, Scicily

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.

Cathedral

The top of the Cathedral

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.

Street scene or "not sure what this is"

Street scene or "not sure what this is"

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.

Straw model of Cathedral

Straw model of Cathedral

Detail of Straw Model

Detail of Straw Model

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

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Sunday Lunch, Scicilian Style

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?

Lunch Menu

Lunch Menu

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.

Octogenarian

Octogenarian posing for his picture.

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.

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Catania, Sicily – Love at first sight

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.

Spare room

Camping Jonio, Catania

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?

Liz in the front "garden"

Liz in the front "garden"

Siracuse

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.

Santa Lucia appears

Santa Lucia appears

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.

Cooking lessons

One day, we were invited to attend a demonstration about cooking fish Sicillian style in the campsite kitchens. Liz attended to cooking bit

Culinary discussion

Culinary discussion

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.

Fish lunch

Fish dinner

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.

Fish market

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!

Etna
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.

Etna from Catania

Etna from Catania

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!!!

Snowy Etna

Snowy Etna

Catania from Etna

Catania from Etna

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!

Taomina dressed for Natale

Taormina dressed for Natale

Seriously narrow street

Seriously narrow street

Towards Acireale

Towards Acireale

Three wise monkeys in a bar?

Three wise monkeys in a bar?

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!

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