Jewel of An Island

Trip Start Nov 27, 2011
Trip End Dec 15, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Sicily,
Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 8, 2011

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Perugia to Rome

On a train bound to Rome. The Umbrian countryside (eye popping greens and fall hues--goldenrods, chocolates, oxbloods) rush by like in a colorized Fellini film.  Paul's ended his meditation week and he’s in an altered state—centered, content and calm.  Oh, and sleeping away as only he can do.  We’ve said our goodbyes to the others and are quite ready for a quick swing through the Eternal City this evening.

We arrived at our hotel in time to hit the Immaculate Conception celebrations in the streets of Rome (really!).  In addition, I think it’s also the day that the Natale decorations are put up, strung up and lit up.  The crowds were amazing! 

We made it to our hotel in the shadows of the Pantheon (Sole al Panteone) in record time, given the holy day/holiday traffic.  As is often the case, the actual place where we were staying was in another building.  So, after registering, we jumped back into the crowd and swam around them (like salmon up a stream) to our spacious room.  We made haste to hit the streets of Rome.  We threw open the windows and allowed the cool air to rush into the room (it’s warmer than in Perugia).  Along with it, wafted the noise of laughter, the strings of a distant mandolin, the dance-like shuffling from a mass of people packing the piazza, the smell of roasting chestnuts and the squeaky, overexcited voices of sugar-energized kids.  And we could hardly wait to join in the festivities.

Are plan was to walk to one of our favorite restaurants (La Cave) and realized that it was only 7pm and way too early for dinner—they’d probably not even be set up for any guests.  So instead we headed in the opposite direction to our favorite enoteca by the Spanish Steps.  Paul amazed me with his keen sense of direction (must have been the meditations 'cause he’s normally directionally challenged….of course, I’m the only one that agrees with that!).  As we made our way slowly (we’ve never seen this many people packing the streets), we found streets closed off to traffic (not by police, but just by people taking over the streets!).  We happened upon the tree being lit in front of the Vittoriano monument.  Then we turned into Via del Corso and the undulating red, white and green lights of the Italian flag hung overhead for what seemed like at least a mile.  We also ran into a small parade of the faithful carrying a statue of the BVM on her feast day.  The longer we walked the more outrageous the crowds got….it suddenly turned into a French film with all sorts of interesting characters…..but I digress.

We finally made it to Enoteca Antica.  I thought we were going to have trouble getting in, given the crowds we’d experienced that whole distance we walked (1.5 to 2 miles).  But, as luck would have it, we got a seat in the bar just as we walked in.  We had a new person serve us who, it turns out, is a young woman from Cuba.  We chatted, ordered 3 glasses of wine (me…Paul’s not drinking), antipasti and a pizza.  Yumm!!

After our meal we walked back to the hotel to burn off some of the calories we consumed!  We were in bed by 11pm….our taxi would pick us up at way too early at 6am.

Taormina, Sicily, Italy

December 9, 2011

Our flight from Rome to Catania was rather uneventful and we were both excited about visiting a whole new area of Italy.  It was rather cloudy when we left, but the clouds let up a bit upon our arrival in Sicily.  We circled Mt Etna as it stuck up above the clouds.

We got to the airport and picked up our rental car.  It took us a bit to get out of the parking lot (we went around in the same circle 3 times!).  There was a cop standing in the same spot who after the second come-around was already smiling…by the third time he was in a full out belly laugh.  Our GPS guys was quite confused so I took a risk and figured he’d just have to "recalculate."  It took him a while, but he finally did.  Driving on the right side of the road makes it infinitely less stressful than my last experience in Scotland!!  We arrived in our hotel within the hour.  By the time we got to Taormina, we were appropriately wowed by the beauty of Sicily.  The views are simply fantastic, and not a little majestic.  Our GPS did get another hiccup once we got to Taormina which literally clings on a series of cliffs and has narrow roads that wind up very steep grades.  Our GPS thought we were about 200 feet higher than we really were so our hotel was nowhere to be found (and I’m freaking out with a standard transmission car, making a “y” turn on a very, very narrow road [with a nasty drop off] and on a very steep grade (be warned that Paul’s story will make it sound like we were on a flat, wide road or something of the kind).  I must admit that I did peel out of that spot…I was burning rubber up that hill!  I was embarrassed (and a little pumped up) by the sound rubber peeling off onto the pavement!

So we found our hotel and as you can see from the photos, the view is pretty fantastic.  We walked around this very pretty town exploring nooks and crannies.  We did make it to the old Greek amphitheater.  Besides it being a pretty fantastic structure that was built into the rock of this mountain, the views from there are pretty fantastic (again, see the photos).  It was a rather cloudy day and Mt Etna was hidden above the clouds (but don’t worry…we got fantastic views the next day).

We slept late the next morning (Dec 10th, now) and made it to breakfast by 9am.  Then we undertook a climb to the highest spot we could see from here.  I’ll point out where we hiked to in the appropriate photo so you can appreciate the distance and elevation we climbed.  We probably went 3 miles and at least 1,000 feet up.  First, we followed the steps (and the stations of the cross) that led us to a little chapel overlooking the town and just below the castle.  There we bumped into a wedding and I took the requisite wedding photos.  From there we walked another significant distance and climb (again, I’ll point it out in the photo) to Castelmola, a pretty, old medieval town on top of one of the highest spots overlooking Taormina.

On our return (we took a taxi back) we stopped for pizza (yes, I ate the whole thing!) we made it back to the hotel to check email, etc. (we were spoiled in Perugia with wireless and here we have to go down to the lobby).  Tonight it’s dinner at Casa Grugno, which is highly recommended.  More on that experience later.

Have a great weekend all—

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Peggy Gott on

Your blog this time was most especially wonderful. I have felt like I am there and while I have been the other places you've visited on this trip, I have never been to Sicily. I just imagine that I could easily climb those hills with you both. OH YEAH SURE!!! Continue to have a safe and GREAT time. Santa comes in 14 days. :-)

Mando on

Wow, incredibly beautiful. There is no such thing as having too much fun. Onward my brother.

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