Sicily and Malta.1 – Intro

 

 

We returned from a holiday in Sicily and Malta on October 22.

It had started on October 8, dreadfully stress-loaded, with  a 2.5 hour Toronto delay on the tarmac in Air Canada 890, followed by an Air Canada “welcomer” in Rome October 9 who commanded us to “Run!” to our replacement flight – an impossible and dangerous marathon pre-destined to fail epically. We “ran” for 25 minutes…

Though we were both almost 74, no motorized transportation was offered. In fact, when requested, it was denied. We missed that replacement flight and, at one point, my wife and I were so breathless that I was worried that one of us would have a serious medical incident at FCO.

We went to about 4 disinterested, misinformed Alitalia desks/gates until we finally found a veteran Alitalia  supervisor who knew exactly how to solve our problem in about 10 minutes. He and his super efficient staff got us and our bags on Flight 1741 to Catania that left at 3 PM, 2.5  hours after our original Alitalia flight 1711 had been scheduled to depart.

Our destination was Siracusa, that ancient, sacred place that was once more important than Corinth or Athens. We easily found the Interbus kiosk at Catania Airport  that sold tickets to Siracusa for €5.70 pp and arrived at Maison Ortigia in the dark. Emanuele was waiting for us and for a few other patrons of his B&B who had also been delayed in their travels.

The beauty of what we experienced in these two ancient, war-torn lands more than made up for the stress we went through on October 8th and 9th in getting there.

Catania to Siracusa
Route from Catania to the island, Ortigia (ancient Siracusa) is a 63 km bus trip.

 

Cinque Terre, The Italian Riviera

Vernazza from above
May 16: Vernazza from the path to Monterosso, Cinque Terre

In May, 2007 we visited Italy with a couple of long time friends. We stayed centrally in Rome for a few nights before joining our Insight Vacations bus tour of central Italy. When the tour ended Anita and I did more self directed travel:

  1. Bus to Siena, not in our Insight itinerary.
  2. Bus Siena to Florence mainly to see the Ufizzi Museum and wander that fabulous city on our own using a day bus pass.
  3. Train Firenze to La Spezia, the rail connection for the five towns on Italy’s riviera, the gorgeous Cinque Terre.

May 16: We got off the Cinque Terre train from La Spezia in Vernazza, the 4th Terre from  La Spezia, found a nice B&B and then relaxed and watched the huge waves crash into the breakwater. They sometimes flowed under the restaurant tables, forcing the patrons to raise their legs and, gently cry out, “Ooohhh.” We watched an ambitious photographer who recklessly stood on the wall get drenched. She was lucky not to be knocked down. Vernazza is Rick Steve’s favourite terre. After we walked a little distance along the slopes N and S of the town. The next morning we ate an early breakfast and took the train S to Riomaggiore.

May 17 – THE Breakfast: Our host at Camera Fontana Vecchia had recommended a few places nearby to eat. We selected one, called Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre, that was run by two Sicilian brothers. It specializes in pastries. We stood at the counter and Anita pointed to what she wanted. Massimo, one brother, said to wait. Anxious to start our day, we pointed again to what we wanted. Once more he pressed us: “Wait 5 minutes, then you can have what is in there!” He pointed to Rick Steves’ Italy Guidebook in my hand. I didn’t know Il Pirata was even listed in Rick Steves! We waited for the cannoli with risotto cheese. Sooo glad we did. We had stumbled into one of the best Italian pastry spots on the Planet and the best restaurant in Vernazza!

After the train S to Riomaggiore we walked back N on the path that leads through all five Terres and visited Riomaggiore’s neighbour, Manarola. Waiting for the train to Corniglia in Manarola I was impressed by the speed, wind and noise with which a train passed through – so close to us. I had my VCR ready to catch the next one when a man on a bench pointed South and said “There. Now!” In less than a minute I shot the next northbound train rocketing through and thanked him. We conversed until we got off in Corniglia, having learned that he was Corniglia’s stationmaster. He told us we had time to take the small bus to the upper village and still catch the train for Vernazza. So we did. Then, around noon, back down at the station waiting for the Vernazza train, we met a Californian woman named Teresa and, before the train came, I heard “Bob” shouted from a window in a nearby apartment building. The master, Valerio, was beckoning us to come and eat lunch with him. We asked if Teresa could come and he said “Yes.”

The Two “Sisters”: He served us a delightful pasta and salad lunch that he had cooked and offered us homemade red wine. Teresa, wearing a loose, modest white dress and behaving a little cautiously, also declined the wine. He asked if she was a Sister. Anita laughed, since our tour guide in Pompeii had asked her, dressed modestly, and coolly, in white, the same thing before taking us through the brothel, not wanting a religious nun to be surprised by the visual menu offered in racy murals on the ancient whorehouse walls.

Pompeii Brothel Selection
One Pompeii Brothel Selection – May 12 – With Tour Group

After lunch Teresa, Anita and I caught the next train for Vernazza. Facing a sea of tourists at the station wanting to board our train so anxiously that they were preventing our exit, I assertively called out “Please let us off! I have two “sisters” with me.”

We collected our luggage and caught the train back to La Spezia. From there another train brought us, past the famous marble quarries of Carrara, back to Rome for our last night in Italy.

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