Mangia on Mt. Etna: mangiare e bere (let’s eat and drink)

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When it rains we find solace in food and beverages. Lucky for us, the family of our friends welcome visitors with open arms and delicious food. We traveled to the small fishing village of Roccalumera, halfway between Taormina and Messina. The Italian mainland region of Calabria was visible across the straits of Messina, like New Jersey across the Hudson River from New York. Our greeting was filled with love and amazing aromas from the kitchen. Risotto with porcini mushrooms (that were foraged earlier in the day), Stocco stew, a delicious traditional cod dish, pulpo, caponata, stuffed anchovies and so much more. Coupled with homemade wine and finished with gelato, pistachio-filled cannoli, a plate of fresh melon and a dish of persimmons. The language of food, and lots of pantomime along with the family’s pretty good English (compared to our pretty rough Italian) made this special evening extraordinary.

We have begun…

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Green Gold: Pistachios of Bronte

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The sky was blue, the air crisp and Etna was smoking.Bronte is the pistachio capital of Sicily. The trees are not indigenous but they date back to the days of the Phoenicians, so almost native. The Sicilian pistachios are longer, thinner and richer in flavor than other pistachios, probably due to the volcanic soil and biennial harvesting.

We were thrilled to spend the day with Laura Lupo, owner of Aricchigia. This company is about five years old, but the pistachios, almonds, olives and fruits are from their family farm which goes back at least three generations.

The organic farm is filled with volcanic stones and Mt. Etna is visibly steaming and smoking in the not-really-distant distance. Trees grow around and through the stones. Dried nuts are then used in savory (pesto, oils) and sweet (cream/spreads) products. It was our first look at a pistachio tree; we learned there…

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Siracusa:Ortigia, the island off the island

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Siracusa was one of many Greek colonies in Sicily known to the Romans as Magna Graecia in the 4th and 5th centuries BC. Essentially it was a world power as it defeated an attempted invasion by its great rival Athens. The island of Ortigia is the center of this historic city. It is the place to stay and explore the 2,700+ years of history packed into its narrow streets. About three miles from the island of Ortigia, on the mainland, lie a few of the ancient ruins of Siracusa. The Parc archéologique de Néapolis has the biggest concentration, including the spectacular Greek theater, the Roman theater as well as ancient quarries where it is believed that Athenian prisoners of war were forced to work for several years. One of the quarries, the Latomia del Paradiso, has an amazing cavern known as the Orecchio del Dionisio (the Ear of Dionysius) named…

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Three Baroque towns

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Our drive out of Ortigia and along the eastern coast had the turquoise water of the Ionian Sea on one side and the Iblei mountains on the other, a great way to start the day. We arrived in the first of three Baroque towns, Noto. We entered the town through the Porta Reale.Noto was built after the earthquake of 1693. The city has three main roads which are oriented east to west for all-day sun. Each road was designed for a particular social class; upper road for the nobility, middle for the clergy and lower for the people. There is a pretty steep incline to get up to the nobility level where there are still many beautiful palace-like homes. Most of the buildings, gates and statues are yellow limestone. This stone was abundant and easy to carve. It also looks great in the sun. Sicilian Baroque has a little…

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A mosaic journey across southern Sicily

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An early departure from Agrigento was necessary to pack in a day of mosaic and ceramic wonder. We drove past fields of almond trees, artichoke, honeydew melon and prickly pears on our way to the Villa Romana del Casale.

The impressive Villa is near the center of Sicily and was discovered/uncovered in the 1930s. Built in the early part of the fourth century, the mosaics are astonishing and the villa is sprawling. Each room’s floor is decorated with scenes and intricate patterns. A central mosaic runs the length of the main hallway, about 60 meters, and depicts the capture of wild animals and their journey by ship to Rome. Another well-preserved floor shows women participating in sports wearing bikini-style athletic clothing, as beach volleyball players currently wear. The original intensity of the colors must have been remarkable considering that even faded, they are spectacular.A medieval town located near…

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Fast forward to Agrigento

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A torrential rainstorm was the determining factor (there were a few others) which pulled the plug on our Magna Via Francigena pilgrimage. Although the driving rain stopped by breakfast, we have shifted our focus and will be spending a little more time in a few more towns instead. We had a lovely breakfast in Prizzi, and headed to the southern city of Agrigento. Along the way we passed more beautiful scenery, cows and sheep and even stopped to pick some figs from trees on the road’s edge. They were perfectly ripe and sticky and set the bar pretty high for future figs (we ate them before I even thought of taking a picture).Our bed and breakfast is in a building that dates back to the early 1800s. It has been modernized but has remained in the same family for many generations.

Agrigento is one of Sicily’s oldest towns founded…

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Pretty Prizzi

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Reviewing the several mountain climbs from Corleone to Prizzi, with no place along the way to stop for a coffee or water, we opted to ride to Prizzi and take a mini-break. Along our ride, we passed more transhumance of goats, sheep and cows moving from stunning mountain tops to lower fields. It was the correct decision to skip this day’s climb into the medieval hill town of Prizzi. This huddle of stone homes and narrow labyrinth of cobbled streets offers enough hills and to keep us active all day. Our hostess, Nicoletta, was born and raised here. She welcomed us with warm bread covered in oil and cheese. Everything is delicious in Sicily (tutto è delizioso in Sicilia). We climbed the steep streets and took in the great views.The Archeological Museum was fascinating. There are artifacts dating back several million years including shell fossils. There are photos and…

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The climb to Santa Christina Gela: Magna Via Francigena giorno uno (day one)

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Leaving Palermo on Sunday morning was pretty quiet, just a few kilometers out of town you are in the foothills of the Palermo mountains and in the town of Monreale where there is a magnificent Cathedral.The story goes… William II, a rival to Walter the Mill, was determined to overshadow the cathedral in Palermo. Building commenced in 1174. The mosaics were completed over a ten year span using Greek craftsmanship and Byzantine influences. The mosaics depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments and run in four rows. In the apse, there is a giant mosaic of Christ.For perspective, his little finger on his right hand is more than three feet long. The floor of the cathedral has Cosmati pavement with beautiful inlays. The smaller chapels have interesting scenes displayed as well. It would be easy to spend several hours ogling the breathtaking work. A looming 15…

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Catania believe it? We are in Sicily.

Cammino time!

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Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, lies just off Italy’s mainland. Sicily has been enriched by classical cultures including the Romans, Greeks, North Africans, Normans and Franks to name a few. We look forward to enjoying the plethora of architecture, art and most importantly, the food. Our visit will include an incredible hike (Magna Via Francigena) which crosses from Palermo on the north shore to Agrigento on the southern coast, a pistachio festival in Bronte, and a wedding in Taormina (packing was a challenge).After a long day of travel, we arrived in the port city of Catania. This is not a picture perfect city; it has a gritty working vibe. The overcast skies hid a view of Mt. Etna and did not highlight the few buildings of historic note. We did, however, find a terrific trattoria and tried both a catanese (potato and mozzarella) and a…

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Clammy beach walk

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Hot and humid with afternoon thunderstorms describes most of Florida in the summer. A beautiful and mostly empty beach make it a nice way to spend our time. Today we came across several sets of turtle tracks; their nests already marked by park rangers, a pelican hanging out and many open clam shells by the waters edge.We plan on taking a little time to regroup, relish our recent adventure and plan the next outing, in September. I think clams and crab will make a delicious dinner…

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