italy / day five / siracusa

A quick workout in the hotel room leaves us hungry as ever. Jordan and I fill our plates with cold meats, some pastries and get some eggs cooked to order from the kitchen. They also have a big bowl of fruit – Jordan finally gets his banana! The plan for today is to head out to Noto, a short ride from Siracusa train station. Slightly confused, we board what seems to be the train heading to Noto; a completely covered graffiti ridden single carriage train. The rackety vessel chugs along the tracks at full speed and we are soon at Noto station. We are greeted by many Italian locals, offering tours of Noto in their vehicles, gesturing towards one of the roads heading up a hill. We brush them off politely and follow the signs up the hill to the centre.

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It takes us a lovely fifteen minute stroll through quiet suburbia to get into the town centre. The small town comes to life as we get closer and it is much more larger and spread out than anticipated. Grand churches stand tall, interwoven in the landscape of other giant, old, sandstone buildings. There is a lot of locals out and about, and kids playing sport. We wisely decide to peruse the beautifully paved streets with coffee cinnamon gelato in hand.

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We grab some sandwiches at a cafe on the main street for lunch, then slowly make our way to Palazzo Nicolai, an old princes home with a great view of the old town. On the way back to the station, we get chatting to a friendly Argentinian man selling handmade jewellery. He shows us his tools and precious rocks, and gives us a demonstration of the copper wire work shown through his products.

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After speed walking our way back down the mountain we just make the old rattler of a train as it pulls up to the platform. Packed full of people, we find some seats near the back next to an African man from Togo. He openly chatted to us the entire way home about travel, family and politics; funny guy.

Back at the hotel, they suggest a restaurant, very popular for it’s pizzas. We take their word and head down to find and empty restaurant. We realise it is only just about to open and we patiently wait outside. We are seated at a table at 7.30pm and get some tasty pizzas to share. By the time we leave, the restaurant is full with a line out the door – great to see such a busy restaurant loved by locals and tourists alike.

italy / day four / siracusa

Our time in Taormina came to a close, as our tummies attempted to settle in the bus ride back down the mountain to the train station. A semi early breakfast and quick getaway allowed us to be in Siracusa by lunchtime, after a two hour odd trip.  The trip into the city was very different to that of Taormina. A lot more industrial, fuel refineries, junk graveyards, abandoned trains, boats and shipwrecks. It was a light walk with our gear to the hotel, Caportigia. The boutique hotel that was once an old warehouse, was now fully refurbished with beautifully restored high ceilings and gorgeous decor. Once checked in – and changed into something a little cooler, we ventured into the new city. The short train trip changed the entire landscape and scenery. The area was a lot more open and flat with lots of sandstone coloured buildings and large paved walkways. We walked down to Ortigia, an island namely the historical centre of Syracuse. The scene was definitely european beachy, with only shorts and singlets in sight. There was also no shortage of cocktails/wine/juice bars.

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_MG_4930After a nice walk, we had a light lunch at the Sunset Bar, consisting of fresh sandwiches. My crusty bread roll was filled with buffalo cheese, speck, tomato and rocket. I finished my lunch off with some fresh strawberries and cream.

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Ortigia was filled with plenty of historical buildings with no sparsity of churches. After choosing a church to enter, I was told to put on a poncho otherwise I was not to enter (hahaha have you seen anything more ridiculous)

 

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I think the water was a little nippy

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After the church fiasco we dove down into some old war caves that ran underneath Ortigia. We wandered through the extensive tunnel system, very easily loosing ourselves in the mysterious place. It was unusually quiet with very little tourists. A relaxing and very interesting way to spend our afternoon.

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underground in the old war tunnels

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After a great day full of sunshine and exploring the beautiful Ortigia, we steered away from the touristy restaurants along the coast of the island, and headed inland to a little seafood restaurant recommended by one of the staff at the hotel, La Lisca. The staff there were friendly and more than happy to help with translating their daily changing menu, dependent upon the product available at the markets nearby. We requested that the kitchen simply send out a couple of favourite starters and staple mains for us to share. It was quite different to what we were expecting and it was exciting trying the unusual foods. At the end of the meal, one of the owners, that had been serving us all night, plonked a bottle of house made limoncello on our table and a couple of glasses for us to enjoy – best limoncello I’ve ever tasted!

italy / day three / taormina

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Ate a balanced breakfast of goji berries and orange jam crostata, then jumped on a bus to Casteloma, a smaller village, higher up the mountain. The bus took about twenty minutes, skilfully manoeuvring the bendy roads. The road came to a dead end in a square, where the bus dropped us off and turned around to make his next leg. It was much quieter once we reached the top. There weren’t as many tourists, and besides a couple motor cycles, there weren’t many vehicles either. The pathways between the old buildings were narrow and the majority of Casteloma seemed to be inside, asleep. This was perfect because we were able to pleasantly explore at our own pace.

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After following some signs to the outskirts of the town, we decided to walk down to Madonna De Rocca, instead of catching the bus. We started on an overgrown path that soon dissolved into suburbia. At first it didn’t seem very far, but we were soon mistaken, and ultimately, very confused about how on earth we were to get there. The homes were scattered all over the hillside and there was no clear path.

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view of Madonna de Rocca (on lower hill to the left)

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crazy trail down the mountain from Casteloma into Taormina
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Casteloma, high up in the mountains

Sweaty and exhausted from climbing stairs and walking on deserted trails, we stopped for a breather and an aperol spritz at a cafe nearby. Once rehydrated we continued a little further on from Madonna de Rocca to a castle that we had seen when we were back in Casteloma. Once at the top, we came to a locked gate (my favourite!), which was soon conquered by the great Pop, Jordan and Lily.

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Once sneaking inside the gates to some of the most spectacular views you have ever seen, we were getting a little peckish for something a little more hardy.  We walked down another ten thousand flight of stairs to the main street of Taormina. We ended up getting a couple pizzas to share at ‘Porta Messina’, after being rudely turned away from ‘Bellini’, for sitting down at a table and asking to share (this was for lunch at a simple cafe, completely empty). We filled our bellies and took a trip to the botanical gardens.

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After all the days we spent admiring the blue waters from above, we took a cable car down to beaches below. The sand was made up of shells and rocks, where Jordan and Pop skipped a couple stones. The place was crazy deserted, but I could see just how busy it would be in summer. After a little scouting and climbing, the sun started to disappear and we headed back up for a nice, last dinner in Taormina.

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italy / day two / taormina

After a satisfying spread at Catania Hotel and trying to order Pop something similar to a flat white, we caught a taxi to the station and jumped on a train to Taormina. A Sicilian lady attempted to talk to us the entire way; I was surprised at how much I could understand. As we approached our destination, the terrain started to become a lot more mountainous and we started to see a lot of towns scattered along the cliffs. To reach Taormina, we needed to get off the train and catch a bus up to the town. The kind Sicilian lady waited with us, making sure we got on the right bus, and then walked the opposite way. We stumbled onto the crazy packed bus with our luggage and somehow found some seats at the very back. The bus ride was somewhat scary. The road up to the town centre was narrow and steep, and it expertly curved around the handles of the mountain. The bus took up majority of the road and would constantly cut off other vehicles coming the opposite way, especially on the corners. And then there were all the cars that were parked on the road; seriously mad. Once we reached the bus station in Taormina, we took a short walk to our accomodation, Sirius Hotel. Checked in, dumped our luggage, freshened up and then we headed out to explore.

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Taormina was magical; the cobbled streets and old buildings splashed with orange and pink hues, the views out to sea and the picturesque landscape of the towns below and Mt Etna, this town was full of life. After grabbing a bite to eat and people watching, we had plenty of daylight to spare, and ventured to the ancient Greek theatre of Taormina (Teatro Greco). Perfectly perched on the mountainside of Taormina, lay this extraordinary place. Instead of being overcrowded like some archaeological sites, there was barely a soul. We breathed in the coastal fresh air, as we explored the miraculous ruins.

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The ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina

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After a caramel gelato and some more wandering through the streets, we sat down for an early dinner off the main thoroughfare. For our first dinner all together, we stuck to the classics and warmed up with tomato soup, followed by carbonara and lasagne for main course. Pop enjoyed some minestrone. On the way home, we picked up some juicy, bright red strawberries to munch on for dessert.

the honeymoon comes to an end

A celebratory mimosa, bacon pancakes and black coffee (apparently fried rice for Jordan) went down well as our last breakfast of the honeymoon. You couldn’t keep us out of the water that morning. We absorbed every last bit of Vanuatu, snorkelling, paddle boarding and appreciating this wondrous island.

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On our way out of the resort, we were escorted right to the shuttle bus and seen off by all the staff that were currently on. The bus ride to the airport was quiet. Neither of us wanted to go back home, knowing the biggest time of year awaited us at work and the aftermath of the wedding, and also the stresses of our new house We sat in silence, hand in hand, staring out the window, just wanting to catch a plane to another country, keep on travelling. Unfortunately, time, funds, commitments and responsibilities were slightly more important than wearing nothing but underwear inside a little hotel room as it rains, looking over the Seine river reading a book or snowboarding in Whistler, flask of fireball in hand. It was peaceful though. We watched everyone go about their day to day and got to see some of the towns that we quad biked through, again.

The airport was packed. There were three flights leaving all in the space of two hours. Once we past through security, everyone funnelled into this tiny little departure lounge with a 5mx5m duty free shop, two tacky gift shops and a counter that sold ice cream and alcohol. The rest of the room was filled up with people. Lots and lots of sweaty people frustrated and annoyed that the flights were delayed. We sat on the floor in the corner of the room, as all the seats were taken – the door to the VIP lounge would open every couple minutes, forging a gust of cool air our way, making it bearable. Once we finally boarded our 110 minute delayed flight to Brisbane, we checked our connecting flight to Adelaide. It didn’t look like we were going to make it. Up in the air, everyone had gotten so hungry, including us, that they sold out of basically all their food.

As we were landing, the hosts went through all the connecting flights and ones that were cancelled. We still didn’t know what we were doing until we got off the plane. Someone was holding a sign with our name on it. As we approached, she proceeded to hand us a bundle of papers including a cab fair card, times for bus shuttles, a $50 food voucher each and our booking sheet for our hotel room – SCORE! The airline had organised us a hotel room to stay in for the night, as we had already missed our flight. When we got to the hotel, we made sure to use the entire $100 on delish takeout from the joint restaurant downstairs and even watched a movie, savouring an extra night of the honeymoon. Pitifully, we had to get up really, really early the next morning as they had placed us on the earliest flight back to Adelaide.

honeymoon day five

Monday morning consisted of a quick brekkie and a trip into town on the free shuttle. On the way in, it started to get busier on the roads and there was a lot more people outside on the streets. We past a lot of stalls and a couple bigger fruit and veg markets. There was also quite a bit of construction of new buildings/hotels.

The bus driver dropped us off in the middle of Port Villa. We wandered off into the streets. The shopping was very different to back home. There wasn’t really any clothing shops or really any cafes, just a lot of buildings. We stumbled upon a huge building that was filled with a hundred stalls selling local styled clothing garments, homewares, art, henna and hair services. I was so excited to get my hair braided as I hadn’t had it done before. I started with a section on the side but then proceeded to get my whole head braided. Whilst Jordan waited patiently, I played hand clapping games and magic tricks with two kids – I’m guessing they were the children of the lady who was doing my hair.

After a bit of looking around, we made our way to the farmers market. It was huge and a central part of the city where a lot of people came to sell their produce. There were also stalls selling gifts, art, clothing, flowers and food. I loved seeing all the hand woven baskets. So skilful to hold that much weight!

Starting to get peckish (how unusual), we sat down at a tavern that served wood oven pizza – and also because it had a really groovy sugar skull stuck to the side of building. We were served by a very friendly chef, as we listened to covers of old school rock songs. Once finished, we grabbed an ice cream and began our climb up a giant hill to find a mysterious (very difficult to find) bike/car hire place.

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Nearly dying of dehydration (not really, but it felt like it) we made it to the hire place to hear that all of the quad bikes had been hired out by some people on the cruise ship that had come in, but were soon to be returned. We went and checked out the supermarket across the road (air conditioned) and had fun looking at the different products. We left with an iced tea.

Back at the hire place, we hopped onto a bright red quad bike after Jordan got a safety run down on how to use the bike by someone half his size (hehe it was kind of funny).

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Jordan jumped on the front to drive and I hopped behind him with the bags and camera. We spent a solid half an hour trying to get out of Port Vila with a very colourful (Dora the Explorer type style) map and hit a number of dead ends – we must have said ‘that trail we blaze’ about three or four times (Eldorado, anyone?). It was nice when we finally got out of the hustle and bustle, it was starting to get confusing driving on the wrong side of the road (on the left) and going around roundabouts; “Jordan! Give way! Give way! Give way to your left! GO!”

The one thing that was a definite on the map was the one road that went around the island. It was bitumen for the most part and went through the costal towns.

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At first there was a lot of green jungle. It reminded me of a scene out of Avatar. It was magical. We pulled the quad bike over and took a couple happy snaps. There were barely any cars. And the only one that actually did past us, stopped and asked if we were okay and if we needed any help #whatevenisthisplace.

On our adventure, there was this crazy time where we past a very friendly group of people, waving and yelling out something we couldn’t hear, as we neared a bridge. Thinking nothing of it, we continued, weaving around fallen down palm trees and debris. Right as we were crossing the bridge, we saw a bit of a gap. As we got closer, we realised that it had been damaged, most likely in a storm/cyclone, and hadn’t been repaired, thus the palm trees to stop cars and trucks from crossing – not helpful when your riding a small, powerful quad bike. We were so close to crossing the bridge, but decided that we’d best not as it was quite a drop down into the gorge and we wanted to go back to Australia in one piece. Giggling, we made our way back to our friendly group of locals. They directed us down a detour that put us back on our path.

 

One of my favourite things about driving around Vanuatu was the people. I haven’t had so many waves in my direction – like ever. There were kids running up besides the quad bike, holding their hands out for high fives, people in the cars coming the opposite direction flashing their lights and waving, even people deep into the town that you wouldn’t even think could see us were saying hi. Literally, every single person we past, without a doubt, waved and/or said hi. It was really warming and we felt super comfortable exploring their island.

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It was quite an ordeal to find petrol. There were no petrol stations in any of the towns that we could see. Starting to get a little worried, we asked some friendly people that pointed us in the direction of a small shop. It was the last building, right on the outskirts of the town. It was filled with approximately two of every basic need. Tampons, chocolate, tuna, and even pizza shapes – yes, we did get some for the road. We asked the shop assistant for petrol and he nodded, turned and headed out the back door. He returned five minutes later with a large glass bottle and proceeded to fill up our quad bike – the last place we would’ve thought to look.

Oh and that’s just some cute piccy’s of Jord drinking some cocktails.

honeymoon day four

After a refreshing nights sleep, we headed to breakfast with a motivation to do some exercise. We filled our bellies and borrowed some tennis gear. It was hot. We pumped ourselves up with some Pnau, Chameleon in particular, and some pre-workout (yes – I packed pre-workout in my suitcase, so what) and started hitting back an forth. It didn’t take long for the sweat to start pouring off of us.  Soon enough, it was time to hop on a boat and head to a deserted island for a picnic. _DSC9576_DSC9583

The resort organised us boat transport to the island, with a small esky of baguettes, some nibbles, a rug and an an icy cold bottle of wine. After Jordan had his fun on the swing, we had lunch then went for a walk through the jungle. We even ran into some locals with machetes (not scary at all). We tried doing some snorkelling but unfortunately, there wasn’t too much to see on this side. So we lazed on the beach awaiting our boat.

Once back on Efate, I grabbed my backpack and new hiking boots and we walked down to the closest village. There were nice big houses closest to the resort, but as we kept walking,  the scenery changed. Besides the many goats that were tied up to trees and roaming chickens, there wasn’t much else happening. Perhaps it was the time of day or maybe season, but it was surprising. We hadn’t yet seen how poor Vanuatu actually was. Most of the buildings were tin or looked to be only half completed (maybe in light of the recent hurricane). But I was shocked. As we started to enter the village, we met up with a staff member that worked at the resort. He had cut through on a different pathway. He walked with us and took us through the village, pointing out his home, church and other places. It was most enjoyable talking with him and learning about his community and culture.

Cutting back through on the dirt path, Jordan spotted some humongous trees and decided to attempt climbing one. I was actually quite impressed how far he got!

Now back to the restaurant for some more seafood and maybe a mango daiquiri or two.