italy / day nine / maglie

Jord and I fit in another workout at the awesome hotel gym, then fill up at breakfast before some more train travel. Maglie was the destination, but we stopped off in Lecce on the way wanting to explore the town. Our bags went into a storage locker not too far from the train station and we walked into town. The town was full of gorgeous old sandstone coloured buildings and plenty of people. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore inside any of the buildings because most things were closed from 12.30pm til 4pm, which is exactly the time that we were there – of course! So we had a look around but decided to continue on to Maglie. We got some Gelato first though!

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Once in Maglie, we talked to some locals at the station and they directed us to our hotel, Corte dei Francesi. Once a tannery back in the day, now transformed into a very comfortable series of room and communal dining area, elegantly decorated in a  bohemian chic style. We dropped our bags off and went for a stroll around the town.

I noticed there wasn’t many kids, the place was quite lively and there was an abundance of shops, everything from food and wine, to high end shopping. I was intrigued in a little bottle shop where an array of oak barrels full of wine, lined the entirety of one wall. The man working there ran us through a wine tasting, talking to us about the local varietals. From memory, we tasted Negroamaro, Malvasia and Verdeca.

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After some thoughtful consideration, we went back to the hotel after having no luck finding somewhere to eat. The kind receptionist gave us some recommendations and made a booking for us. We were the only ones in the restaurant for most of the dinner as they had accepted us earlier than their opening time; as everyone eats dinner so late! I tried a dessert called Spumoni, it was delish!

 

italy / day eight / matera

After all the pasta and breads, olive oil and wine, I was so excited to get to the well equiped hotel gym downstairs, that I barely slept! Jordan and I headed down to basement and I had a really good arms session. We had a quick shower and then enjoyed a westernised style breakfast buffet, whilst going over plans for the day. Today we were going to Matera, in the small region of Basilicata, approximately an hour, by train, out of Bari. The ancient neighbourhood, namely Sassi, are a series of caverns carved out of limestone, nestled in a small canyon.

On arrival, we picked up a map of the Sassi and a punnet of strawberries for our journey. We soon made sense of the layout, breaking it up into a distinct New Town, Old Town, and in my opinion, Very Old Town. The train station is higher up and you could basically follow any of the streets down towards the main square. From there, it’s more of a wander and get lost kind of situation. I loved this, as the small number of tourists that were there just dispersed and you were solely there to immerse yourself in the seemingly small, but literally huge Sassi.

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Mid afternoon refuel of pizza bread and fruit smoothie, and we were back exploring the Sassi. Closer to the ravine, deeper into the town, there were many empty grottoes ready for me to explore; semi fenced off but not really.

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After farewelling the enchanting Matera, we ate at one of the only eateries we could find in Bari, Tankard Gastropub. We put some washing on at the laundromat across the road, whilst eating some delicious ribs and salad. The person manning the venue was lovely and so helpful with the menu, even though he couldn’t speak a drop of english. It was one of the tastiest meals we had.

To this day, Matera is one of the most incredible, absolutely magical places I’ve ever been and is seriously underrated. If you’re going to Italy and not sure whether to go, as it is a bit out of the way, I’m telling you now, it is 110% worth it.

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 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.

21st

Let me start by saying.. Have I got some stories for you.

Instead of having a big party or hitting the town for my 21st birthday, it was decided that we would travel. From April first, all the way through to the start of May, an entire month abroad. My Pop, very generously, offered to fund my flights to Italy, along with my accommodation. Pop and I used to travel together all the time, but since leaving school, getting married and building a house, we haven’t been able to go on many trips since. This made it possible for us to travel before we move into our new house and for Jordan and I to spend some time together, whilst he is in between careers.

My Pop planned most parts of the trip. He was to meet us over in Italy and spend the first two and half weeks there, and fly home. The day trips to different towns, what train to catch, best places to eat, accommodation; everything was planned to a ‘T’. Jordan and I were to stay on for another nine days together, to do what we like, then head home at the start of May. It was, for the most part, organised. All we needed to do was get on the airplane.

The lead up was pretty hectic. Jordan was working as Head Chef at Lenzerheide, so I was barely seeing him. I was also taking all the work I could get. And not to mention, March 30th – April 2nd was Easter weekend. I also had some issues with changing my name to my married name, so I could change my passport. In the end, I got my passport (on the last possible day it could have been delivered) a couple of days before we left. I must say, I did cry in the post office when the office lady gave me the small parcel.

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Once we were on the plane, all of my worries disappeared. There was no reason to think about work, or people, or things we may or may not have forgotten. It was just pure happiness to be spending some time alone with Jordan and disappearing for the month (even if it was on a crowded, long airplane flight).

We tried to bring a small stash of food on the plane, because let’s be honest, plane food just sucks. I was surprised by our first meal, which was dinner, slow braised beef with mashed potatoes and carrots. But the problem was that it got my hopes up for the other meals to come – which were disgraceful.

The flight itself wasn’t bad. We sat in the middle of the plane for the first fifteen hour odd leg to Doha, then on the window for the next six hours to Rome. It was already organised that my Pop would be waiting to meet us in Rome as we exit the International airport – but that didn’t happen. We spent about forty-five minutes trying to find Pop and figure out what happened. After speaking to a couple different information desks and piecing together the brief information that each Italian had given us, we realised that his flight had been delayed in Abu Dhabi for five hours, causing him to miss the next flight – a short, though expensive, domestic flight from Rome to Catania, Sicily.

After hesitation, contemplation and speaking with ground staff about the situation, Jordan and I decided to check-in to our domestic flight and go through security to our gate. Everything was okay. Pop would just get on a later flight when he got to Rome, but would have to pay nearly triple what he originally paid (insurance), and arrive at the hotel in Catania. The main problem was that we didn’t have any money changed over to use for something to eat and transport to the hotel. We had to get a small amount changed over at the airport because there was no else to go. This was seriously expensive and an absolute rip off. I very much suggest that you change money over prior to travel somewhere other than the airport and/or get a card that has minimal to zero charges on international purchases. We weren’t that smart. Ahh you live and you learn!

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We chose to catch the bus as the hotel was on the other side of the city and a taxi was going to charge us something absurd. We boarded the bus with two backpacks, a suitcase (never again!), Jordans duffel/backpack and two surprisingly bulky, but squishy travel pillows. Oh, and a bag of food and my handbag, which I held very closely. The bus took an entire hour and was the very last thing we felt like doing, but it meant we could splurge on a nice relaxing dinner.

Once at the palace-like hotel, we checked out the room and tried not to sit down or dawdle. If I stood in one place for too long, I could’ve fallen asleep. We dragged ourselves down to the reception desk, on very little sleep, and asked about somewhere we could eat that was close by and inexpensive. She looked at us sympathetically and picked up her phone. Five minutes later, without much more than a ‘wait here’, a car picked us up and took us to his restaurant close by. We were taken to a table and the Head Chef came out and explained the entire menu to us, item by item.

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We ended up getting a lovely platter of cold meats, cheese, olives and breads to start, and of a course a glass of wine. Then pasta and steak for mains. Half way through my pasta, I started to go into a serious food coma and was literally falling asleep at the table. We paid for our meal and the man drove us back in his car again to the hotel.

Up at the hotel room, I got a second wind and had a much needed shower – thank God for hot water and good pressure. We were then graced by Pop’s prescence – HE MADE IT! After being delayed for so long and things not going as planned, I was impressed by how happy Pop was. Although the false start, we were here and the trip was off to a good start. It was nice to be all together. I think our heads hit the pillow and we were fast asleep before Pop had even gotten to his room down the hall.