Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 307: Detailed report on Sicily and Venice - Spring 2003
By Boleskine from NJ, Spring 2003
Trip Description: Enjoying Sicily at Easter and Venice in Springtime
Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Sicily, Venice
Categories: Vacation Rentals; Art Trip; Day Tours; Foodie Trip; Shopping; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People
Page 1 of 34: 18 Aprile - Venerdi Santo in Sicilia
Somehow we have made it through the Seder; cooked, fed and cleaned up after 16 guests and parceled out all the left over food-maybe a little too efficiently. Poor Alex, our house sitter, will have no sweets on which to snack while he keeps our cats company. Everything is washed and dried and put away; only a sack of napkins sits forlornly, unironed, on the drier. I am sure they will still be there in 5 weeks. I got to see Charlie, my acupuncturist, did the last minute shopping, got birthday, Easter and Mother's Day cards in the mail, and we have packed without committing spousecide. Sharon, our driver, showed up as we were downing the last of the matzo ball soup, and we were off for JFK.
Traffic going south on the NJ Turnpike was hideous-like a parking lot with nothing moving except for an occasional inch or two forward every few minutes, but going north we were fine. Traffic on Staten Island and Satan's Parkway was heavy but not impossible. Alitalia is taking over Delta's Italian routes so we have to check in there. There is a mob scene at check-in, but fortunately Alitalia honors Delta Gold Cards so we can go to the Business Class check-in even though we are not flying Business Class. There is only one person ahead of us, and we even get to use the Alitalia Club room while we wait.
Security is a bit more involved than it was in December. Almost all men and many women must remove their shoes, everything seems to be more carefully screened and anyone who sets off the alarm is thoroughly wanded. The woman behind me sets off the alarms, and does not seem to understand much English. She willingly extends her arms but does not understand the security guard also wants her to stand with her legs apart.
"Anche le gambe I say." She eyes me and says something that sounds more like French than Italian.
I point to the security guard who is standing the way she wants the passenger to stand. "Voici," I say, "Le bras et aussi le jambs." My French is terrible, but beggars cannot be choosers, and I get a smile and a "Merci, Madame." The French woman widens her stance willingly once she understands that's what they want.
I don't understand why security guards cannot learn these phrases in a few languages or at least have a card with the phrases they need printed in several language. I am sure if a French or German guard was giving me instructions, I would get confused too.
Once through security, we find the Alitalia Club and are admitted in exchange for our boarding passes. It is a large, airy room with butter yellow leather couches that have gun mental gray lattice reinforcements on the sides; the lampshades match the couches. Bathrooms are immaculate although oddly there are no locks on the doors. There is a generous assortment of beverages-open wine and champagne bottles, and soft drinks in tiny cans; also bottled water. Cheese, crackers, bread sticks and for those with a sweet tooth adorable little bags of Milano cookies courtesy of Pepperide Farm. I try to remember how many other Italian cities are represented by Pepperidge Farm-Verona and Genoa are all I can think of. We have a nearly perfect view of the Concorde from our seats; unfortunately a Singapore Airlines jumbo jet is blocking the distinctive nose ruining what might have been a perfect photo of a soon to be extinct marvel.
I take the best photo I can manage without disturbing anyone by standing on them, and hope the Singapore plane will move soon. I make a few phone calls to people I never had a chance to say goodbye to, but connect with only one person. Then I settle down to wait for boarding. Luckily I do not have to wait too long.
The interior of the plane is all gray; there is no more room between the seats than on most, and the rows are broken into sets of three, but the roof of the cabin seems quite high and this combined with the light color gives a feeling of space and airiness that is a pleasant contrast to most US carriers.
Our seatmate is a young Italian woman who speaks excellent English and is friendly without being chatty. The meal is passable. The seats have individual screens for games, movies, etc. I try the game but either I have a poorly functioning hand set or am being even more stupid and clumsy than usual. Eventually I opt for a movie, Road to Perdition, which Martin has already started viewing. Perhaps it is the small screen or the fact that the ear plugs are much too big to fit in my ears-I am more accustomed to headphones that rest against my ears, but I find the film to be dark and depressing, violent and utterly predictable. I watch to the end, but do not enjoy it at all even though I like both Paul Newman and Tom Hanks.
Breakfast, as it is on most flights, is much worse than dinner. I cannot eat yogurt and even if I could it is not what I would want in the morning; the croissant is ice cold a far cry from the honey/apricot glazed ones I bake fresh every morning. The juice is in a container - I am accustomed to fresh squeezed and the coffee is the watery American stuff I don't ever drink anywhere except on a plane. At least it is hot and does contain caffeine, which I badly need after only one hour of sleep. No seconds are offered, and the breakfast trays are not collected until about 5 minutes before we start our descent, which makes the bathroom lines enormous.
Milano is gray and cloudy, but we never have to leave the building. We go through Immigration and rush to the departure lounge for our flight to Catania making it with enough time to spare to use the rest rooms there and to catch our breath. The Catania flight uses a smaller older plane, which is much roomier than modern models. We have seats at one of the emergency doors - one look at me with my walking stick and we are asked to move - no problem. I'd only be a menace in such a situation. We get water and biscotti as a snack and before long we can see Sicily beneath us. We start to land and then the plane pulls up sharply; the pilot assures us all is well there just is a small problem on the ground and soon enough, before my imagination can run too amok, we have landed. We can deplane from the rear of the plane, which is faster and easier and toting our carry on stuff through rows and rows of seats. One of the flight attendants seeing I use a walking stick advises me to wait for assistance since I needed it to board. We have to persuade him there is another woman - more in the front - who boarded early with assistance and I am fine. We get on the buses which I once associated with every European arrival to the terminal building and wait and wait and wait for our suitcases. Eventually only a handful or people remain-some from the flight over from JFK. Martin asks questions of the uniformed men who are standing in the area and learns that because we arrived in Italy on an International flight and never collected our baggage in Milan, we must go to International arrivals for our luggage. This turns out to be a small luggage filled room adjacent to the main room. Two young women are asked to place their backpacks on a belt, which will take them through an electronic screening machine. I ask if we should do that. A handsome young customs officer looks at this bedraggled pair of senior citizens with two coats, two pieces of carry on, a gigantic purse, a walking stick and three pieces of luggage and motions for us to pass through. I guess we do not look very threatening or dishonest.
Outside of the restricted area, Pasqualina and Gianluca greet us with hugs and kisses and a huge bouquet of flowers-beautiful vivid wild flowers. Gianluca goes with Martin to confirm our flight from Catania to Venice since our travel agent could not contact Alpi Eagles by mail or phone after the initial booking. They are told our tickets are good, but that we must call Tuesday morning to find out about the flight - it might take off early or late- they do not mention "not at all," but it certainly crosses our mind. Pasqualina and Gianluca will leave Monday night on an overnight ferry to Genoa and then will drive to Bologna from Genoa; if we know for sure there is no plane, we could try to go with them, but it seems we will have to wait until Tuesday morning to know anything definitive and that will be too late. Gianluca tells us he thinks they are being overly cautious with their warnings and the flight will very likely leave as scheduled.
Gianluca gets the car, we load in the luggage and ourselves and we head off to Enna. We are impressed with the lush green of the countryside. I recall a passage from Il Gattopardo about the "polvere; how the dust is on the road and in the air, on the carriages and horses, on everyone’s clothes and hair and faces." Gianluca assures me in a few months Sicily will be dry, dusty and brown from the heat of the summer sun, but an unusually wet spring has left this lush verdant countryside for us to enjoy. On the first part of the trip, we see farms-mostly with fruit trees-oranges, mandarini and some lemons, but nowhere near as many lemon trees as we saw on Ischia and the Amalfi Coast. Before leaving home we had been enjoying oranges from Sicily for our breakfast juice, ad now we can see them growing.
The landscape changes to pastures with dairy cows and herds of sheep; some seem to be grazing at precipitous angles; there are also strange shaped hills that look like dunes of sand in the old west. Gianluca tells us that many Italian westerns are filmed in this are in summer because as the heat burns away and dries the grass and greenness, the countryside does resemble western US deserts even more.
He points out Mount Etna, which we had seen clearly from the plane. Its upper reaches are still so snow covered we were not sure if we were seeing the famous volcano or not. For some reason I thought a volcano especially in Sicily would be if not black and red with cascading lava at least brown and green with dry land and trees. I did not expect to see snow on it.
We see the fortress that guards Enna, a city, which has as its motto, "The city, which cannot be captured." La Rocca looms high above us giving Enna's defenders a good view of anyone approaching and the advantage of altitude from which spears, arrows, bullets could be aimed at any who would storm her walls. We go directly to the home of Gianluca's parents in Enna Alta for a late lunch.
We have met Gianluca’s parents twice before; they are warm and charming speaking a little English which can supplement my Italian. We begin our meal with a pasta made with wild fennel-small delicate bits of fennel and its leaves, some pomodoro and a type of well browned bread crumbs which I have not previously encountered but which is an excellent addition providing both texture and flavor. Since the cheese is pecorino I may eat it - a real treat. The next course is a type of veal made by Concetta's aunt who is visiting; the veal is between a sauté and a stew and is very flavorful. There are also wonderful crusty rolls. We are offered a light red wine as an aperitif; a Sicilian red with our entree as well as water and a Sicilian soft drink. The dessert is a ricotta cake-and miracle of miracles, it is made with sheep's milk ricotta so I can eat that too. There are also lovely little cookies including some fruits carved from marzipan. So stuffed we can hardly walk, we go now to see our apartment.
Pasqualina apologizes for its lack of elegance and in truth it is a bit strange. It is never used by its owner, who apparently keeps it to loan to friends and friends of friends, but the beds are comfortable and the water is hot. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room, but there boxes and cartons, extra, unused pieces of furniture and stacks of unused items all around. Still as a rent-free place for four days, it is fine. Fixed up, it could be a magnificent family home. There is no point unpacking since we have no place to put things-no closets or dressers or even wall hooks so we take out what we need, and I shower while Martin naps. Then I finish the Stephanie Plum book and doze off while trying to decide what to do until Martin awakens. When I wake up he is showered, and we both get ready to go out for - dinner.
First we all go to look for a toothbrush for Martin. He has either forgotten to pack his personal attachment for our ultrasonic toothbrush or it has wandered into some nook or cranny of our suitcases and won't be found until we completely unpack in Venice. We cannot find what we need so we settle for a plain old tooth - a new plain old toothbrush.
I don't see how we can eat after that huge lunch, but fortunately first we get a tour of Enna including the Duomo, which is very impressive. It is full of intricate woodcarvings and finely wrought marble work. An organist is playing softly - perhaps rehearsing for Easter Sunday. Despite the dim light, we can see a fair amount of the sculptures and paintings.
When we reach the restaurant we find that there are 15 people in our dinner party; cousins, fiancées of cousins, nephews, uncles, aunts; I never get all of them straight, but they are a congenial and convivial crowd. We go to a restaurant outside Enna; it is called Excalibure. Martin orders a pasta dish, and I order a pizza. Most of the pizzas and pasta dishes have Arthurian names. Mine is an Uther with real mozzarella di buffalo, which I can ea, radicchio, pomodori, funghi freschi e speck. Martin and Gianluca are both having penne Norma, an exception to the Arthurian theme, which looks wonderful but is full of cheese; there are three or four different kinds and they are not all from sheep sp I cannot even taste it.
Before the pasta and pizza arrives, the antipasto comes: platter after platter of hams and salami, bresaeola with arugula and sun dried tomatoes, little slices of an onion tart, a dozen or more different types of fresh and marinated mushrooms, assorted cheeses and other items too numerous to recall. We go through an alarming number of these platters before the main dishes come. Everything is delicious and is washed down with bottles of red wine, beer, and coke and water; there are 15 of us and we must consume about 20 full sized bottles. Too full for dolce, we do manage small dishes of orange sorbet.
The only drawback is that in the next room, a family is celebrating their son's 18th birthday with blaring music and screaming young people; later, as they quiet down a large group at the table next to us begins smoking so the conto is requested and soon we are in the middle of a complicated Sicilian farewell scene. Some people will be seeing each other or us the next day and others will not. The goodbyes vary on whether it is until tomorrow, for a few days, or in our case, possibly for
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