italy / day eleven / roma

I sneakily smuggled away some pastries for the road after our last breakfast at Corte de Francesi. We took a taxi to Brindisi airport (I swear they were going at least 140km/h), because we were flying past all the other cars. We checked in our baggage and boarded a plane to Roma! A bus trip to Termini and a short walk, and we were at what would be our hotel for the next six days, Alpi Hotel.

As soon as we arrive, Pop takes a nasty tumble on some of the steps in the hotel and bumps his head (which we later found out that he broke a couple ribs and ended up getting pneumonia; what a bloody trooper!). Not the best start, but we patch things up with a band aid and some ruby red strawberries, left by hotel staff with compliments, and continue on with our day. Obviously, we are very hungry again and grab some super tasty focaccias (Pizza Shop 341 SNC), which filled a good hole for the next kilometre.

Checking out the city on foot, we end up at the Trevi Fountain. It was amazing, but the place was crowded with so many tourists and people trying to sell stuff to you, that we continued on pretty quickly. Though, we did stop into an awesome store that let you build your own magnum ice cream; which of course we tried.

We moved on from the square and headed for the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, an old palace gallery and home, partially open to the public, in the heart of the city. We had accidentally stumbled on to this magnificent place on our previous visit to Rome. We got some tickets and a portable handset guide, and wandered through the many rooms of the palace, admiring the incredible paintings that filled the ceilings and intricately detailed floors, not to mention the hundreds of artworks strung up through the gallery.

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We finished our day with a special dinner at L’eau Vive, a restaurant completely run by Carmelite nuns, to celebrate our first night in Rome. We started with asparagus and leek soup, then I had lamb chops with tomato, beans and this lovely creamy pepper and thyme sauce for main.

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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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.