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 seven / bari

Day Seven and we have already covered so much terrain. On the move again, we head to Catania airport via bus after a bowl of cornflakes, an espresso and some leftover pizza from a couple nights ago. We board our plane around 9am and snack on chia pots and Nutella smothered rice cakes. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we checkout the town of Bari.

A light shower passes over as we settle into an eatery, namely Astrobar, in one of the squares. The guy running the joint was super happy, making our lunch very enjoyable. Jord and I shared a small platter of mixed charcuterie, breads and other condiments.

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Whilst galavanting the streets, we stumbled onto one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen, Cattedrale di San Sabino. This cathedral was my favourite that I had seen on the trip so far. Something about the extremely tall ceilings, majestic wooden beams, marble pillars and many sandstone arches dazzled me. Downstairs you can view the crypt and walk through an excavation site that has uncovered layers of ancient Roman ruins. Here lies the beautifully restored Mosaic of Timoteo.

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Cattedrale de San Sabino

 

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Mosaic of Timoteo

A short walk and we were on our way to checkout a Norman-Swabian Castle, Castello Normanno-Svevo. It was built in the 1100’s and has since been destroyed and transformed multiple times. Now it is used for exhibitions and cultural events. We had a look around the halls and courtyard, then strolled around the esplanade, taking in the salty, fresh air, in pursuit of somewhere for dinner.

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There ended up being very limited eateries and the best we could find was some kind of food truck, so we decided to eat back at the hotel in their restaurant. It was actually pretty good! I had confit duck leg, Jordan had some braised lamb shanks and Pop had some kind of beef dish with beetroot chips. On the way up to the room, we asked reception if there was any gym facilities and they said yes! Of course we caught the lift down to the basement to check them out. There was a large, fully equipped, clean, empty gym! Off to bed for a good nights rest, for an early morning workout!

italy / day six / siracusa

A big day planned with a serious amount of walking. We walk down to the island, Ortigia, to checkout some markets and the castle perched on the coast that was closed the other day. The markets were coloured with spices and flowers, we tried some cheese and honey, then towards the castle. When we got to the castle, we bought some tickets and had a look around, but they neglected to tell us that the actual castle was closed for renovations, so there wasn’t much to see. It was still a lovely morning wandering the markets.

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Happy with our exploring of Ortigia, we set out on a long walk across Siracusa towards the archeological park of ancient Neapolis; roughly about forty five minutes. On the way, a tourist asked me, of all people, where the train station was. Through our significant mapping of the area and my great sense of direction (ha!) I was able to advise accordingly.

Three main sites scatter Neapolis; the Greek Theatre, Roman Amphitheatre and the Ear of Dionysius. These incredible sites make up some of the best ruins I have seen in Italy. We walked through the park and up some stairs following a path that opened up at the top of the Greek Theatre. On the left, many stairs/seats directing down onto a makeshift wooden stage, soon to be used for a production, and on the right, little niches found themselves in the semi circle of stone – of course we explored every one of them!

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We stumbled onto our next stop, following a shady path outlined by luscious green trees and old wooden fencing; The Ear of Dionysius, of which was nicknamed by Caravaggio. Dionysius I was a tyrant whom ruled from 405-367 BC. I later learnt that a local legend suggested that he used this cave as a prison, and its acoustics, to spy on his captives, thus the name. I found this place absolutely magical. The way you could whisper at one end and hear it at the other was fascinating. I couldn’t help myself and stayed for a short Natalie Cole tune; Orange Coloured Sky – the acoustics were just too good.

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A short walk and we were wandering around the Roman Amphitheatre. There was a heap of information boards scattered around the theatre describing what things were and what they were used for. The rest of the park lacked this, so it was good to get some insight whilst we were there, rather than later. I found the Roman Amphitheatre to be beguiling, imagining the gladiator fights that would have taken place.

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A friendly waiter and some ham and cheese toasties later, and we’re off to some nearby catacombs, San Giovanni. We bought a couple tickets and waited patiently for the next tour to start. The guide was very informative and took us through the main sections of the catacombs as well as the church and crypt. It was much colder down in the catacombs and really eerie, especially thinking about how the majority of the tunnels were underneath the city of Siracusa.

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A leisurely walk back to the vicinity of our hotel where we head straight to a pub called ‘Hops’. We munch on some well earned burgers; ended up costing us a hefty $70 for our cravings – I think we will be sticking to pizzas and pastas from now on.

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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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.