April 30, 2015 – To Agrigento via Villa Romana del Casale

One last breakfast on the porch and one last look at Mt. Etna with smoke streaming out the top and we are on our way. We get many hugs and kissy cheeks from the people at Villa Ducale. They tell us we must come back again and that Sarah should come to the Italian school there. She can live with them. What nice people!

Sarah pouring tea at our last breakfast at Villa Ducale

Sarah pouring tea at our last breakfast at Villa Ducale

We also say so long to Mt. Etna looming above us with smoke curling out of its top.

Smoking Mt. Etna

Smoking Mt. Etna


Our goal today is to see the Villa Romana del Casale, a 3rd-4th century large Roman house that was buried in a landslide and lay undiscovered for 1000 years. The villa would have been the property of a very higher-up in the government or a member of the royal family. It was kind of like the county seat of a large piece of property with numerous serfs and slaves.

The house is decorated with many mosaic floors and frescoed walls. While many of the mosaics have come through largely in tact, the wall decorations have mostly disappeared. Many of the mosaics refer to hunting scenes, games, or displays of Roman power and influence. These are very large scale mosaics covering the whole floor of the rooms.

Mosaic of a wild buffalo being subdued

Mosaic of a wild buffalo being subdued


An elephant being boarded on boat to be taken back to Rome

An elephant being boarded on boat to be taken back to Rome

Fishermen

Fishermen

A hunting scene with a feast in the center

A hunting scene with a feast in the center

The floor of the famous bikini room where girls vie for athletic prizes

The floor of the famous bikini room where girls vie for athletic prizes

Children in a chariot race

Children in a chariot race


After our visit we continue on to our next stop in Agrigento. Along the way wild fennel grows everywhere.
Wild fennel

Wild fennel


We eat at our favorite restaurant in San Leone. The dish of the day? Spaghetti con vongole.
Spaghetti con vongole

Spaghetti con vongole

April 29, 2015 – Taormina, Sicily

Good morning, Taormina!

Good morning, Taormina!


Today is an exciting day. We have contacted the hotel about setting up a cooking class for Sarah. When John and I were here six years ago, we also took a cooking class. Paolo, the manager here, has arranged for his father, Aurelio, to meet us in town and take us back to his house for the lesson.

We meet Aurelio at about 10:45 AM and the first thing we do is go to the market to see what is good and what to buy for lunch.

The local market

The local market


Aurelio chooses a cauliflower

Aurelio chooses a cauliflower


Sarah watches while Aurelio chooses and bargains

Sarah watches while Aurelio chooses and bargains


Round light purple eggplants from Sicily. "Not bitter" says Aurelio so there is no need to salt them.

Round light purple eggplants from Sicily. “Not bitter” says Aurelio so there is no need to salt them.


Everyone we pass knows Aurelio. He has lived here most of his life. At the market women tease him and the men pick out the best produce. When our shopping is done, we follow him to a bar for a quick cup of espresso. We are really getting the total experience!

At his house we meet his wife Angela and the two of them bustle around the kitchen showing Sarah how to make various dishes. Occasionally they even let her cut some things up. Our menu includes a zucchini casserole, involtini of spaghetti and eggplant, zucchini and eggplant stuffed with ground meat, and a dessert of fruit and a wine pudding/gelatine with raisins. Everything is freshly made from the flavored bread crumbs to the tomato sauce.

Big difference between the way their dishes and ours? First of all, the vegetables are so much tastier. This is because they just came out of the ground or off the plant. They only eat what’s in season. All the food is grown locally. And they use in one meal about the amount of oil that we use in a month.

Aurelio going over the menu with Sarah

Aurelio going over the menu with Sarah


Cooking together

Cooking together


Zucchini casserole

Zucchini casserole


Spaghetti and eggplant involtini

Spaghetti and eggplant involtini


Our plate also includes ground meat inside of zucchini  and eggplant strips

Our plate also includes ground meat inside of zucchini and eggplant strips


Kind of weird wine pudding with strawberries

Kind of weird wine pudding with strawberries


But neither Aurelio or Angela are overweight. Although they have cooked a lot, they take only small portions. Plus they have four flights of stairs up to their main living quarters and Taormina is full of very steep hills. While we are huffing and puffing following Aurelio around, he has no problem with the stairs and hills even though he is 76!

We all sit down to a very enjoyable lunch. By the time we leave we have been shopping, cooking, eating and chatting for about 5 hours. What an incredible experience!

Later we sit out on the deck with a glass of prosecco and a couple of small bites and talk about our day. We are way too full to contemplate dinner.
P1050603

April 27-28, 2014 – From Bari to Taormina by way of Cosenza

We have decided to take two driving days to reach Sicily. The driving here is pretty stressful and since our rental car has a manual transmission John has to do all the driving. In order to make the trip more enjoyable I have chosen something interesting to see each day.

We are making our way on the 27th to Cosenza in Calabria. Along the way there is a hilltop town which was a Saracen hold out due to its very remote and inaccessible location. I have read on the internet that there is a church there with a 14th century triptych painted by Giotto’s studio. We definitely need to see this! So up the winding roads John drives until we reach the tiny town and we don’t think we can fit the car up any of the streets. Disembarking we walk up very, very steep streets until we reach the little church. The sign on the door says that it is open between 10 AM and 12:30 PM and then again at 4 PM. Hurrah, it is 11:30 AM so it should be open.

Hill town of Rabatana

Hill town of Rabatana

But, no. I read that it is manned by an elderly nun. We find someone to ask. They say that the nun has gone to Tursi for the day and will be back for the later opening. Unfortunately, we will not be here for the 4 PM opening. Sadly we turn the car around and continue on to Consenza.

Our Lady of the Locked Church

Our Lady of the Locked Church

Once in Cosenza we do some shopping at a nearby mall and find somewhere to have dinner. Monday is usually a day when most restaurants are closed. What they think travelers do between Sunday lunch and Tuesday breakfast, I do not know. Maybe fast? Anyway the hotel knows of a place that is open and we have pizza and a bottle of wine from a grape we have never heard of. We chat with the waiter. It’s a pleasant dinner.

Yay, pizza!

Yay, pizza!


In the morning we are back on the road to Sicily. We catch the 11:20 AM ferry and cross the Strait of Messina.
Crossing the Strait of Messina

Crossing the Strait of Messina


My fun plan for today is to stop in Messina and see the cathedral and then have lunch before heading to Taormina. I am hoping that it turns out better than yesterday’s good idea. All goes smoothly getting off the ship and we find the cathedral with no problem. However, parking is a problem. John finds an inventive parking space which is obviously not a real parking space but others are parked here so, why not?
Our parking spot at the top of a flight of stairs

Our parking spot at the top of a flight of stairs


The Messina cathedral has been largely rebuilt since an earthquake at the beginning of the 20th century and allied bombing in 1943 destroyed much of it. It has some very nice reconstructed 14th century mosaics and a large astronomical clock on its bell tower.
Main apse mosaic in Messina duomo

Main apse mosaic in Messina duomo


We find some lunch and then are on our way to Villa Ducale in Taormina. This will be the third time we have stayed at Villa Ducale and we are greeted like old friends. The B & B has 17 rooms, an unbelievably beautiful view from their porch, exceptional service, and is rated #1 on Tripadvisor. There is complimentary tea at 5 PM, cocktail hour at 7 PM and then you can have dinner al fresco as well. It is a really nice place. Sarah is charmed.
The view from Villa Ducale enjoyed with a welcoming glass of prosecco

The view from Villa Ducale enjoyed with a welcoming glass of prosecco


Our room

Our room

The view from our room's balcony

The view from our room’s balcony


Tea time treats

Tea time treats


We pretty much camp out on their porch from 7 PM until we retire.

Tomorrow, Sarah has a cooking lesson with the hotel manager’s father!