Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Primer to Driving in Sicily: Picking Up Your Car from the Trapani Airport

The Trapani Airport is by far my favourite Sicilian airport.  If you go to the official website you will see there is no map.  That is because you don't need one.  It is a tiny, tiny airport.  There is no circling waiting for a runway, and when we landed we walked in to no immigration and no customs!  That was a surprise!  This is because it is mainly a domestic airport.  I checked the flights in and out for today.  Eleven flights in, eleven flights out for the whole day and only one in and one out were not domestic.  There are only four airlines that use Trapani: Ryan Air, Darwin Airline, AirOne, and Alitalia.  Ryan Air reports having flights from all over Europe flying into Trapani.  I can't comment on that as we have only flown from Beauvais, just outside of Paris.  Darwin Air and AirOne only fly domestically to Trapani.  Alitalia has connections all over the world so flying into Trapani shouldn't be a problem.

One of the nice things about Trapani is once you pick up your luggage and walk into the main part of the airport, the car rental desks are right in front of you.  Our experience was that there was no English speaking clerk there so Nick was brought into service and did all the negotiations in terms of renting the car.  

We arrived from Canada so walking out into the HOT July heat of Sicily was a shock.  It was also a shock walking to the very far end of the parking lot to pick up our little Ford Fiesta.  

The really nice part of driving out of Trapani Airport is that it is beautiful and there is no traffic to speak of.  This gave me some time to get used to driving in an unfamiliar place until we hit the real traffic.  We were heading to Agrigento so we decided not to take the autostrada, but to take the regional highway to the south.  This turned out to be the best choice as we had some amazing views.

Almost no traffic!  Even the signpost thinks we are going the right way!

This view had us squealing!  You don't see this in Canada!

Again, more Greek architecture that had me drooling!

Not the best picture of our first glimpse of the Mediterranean
but considering we were driving and had nowhere to stop , it's not bad.

We took a side road that went by the Turkish Steps or La Scala dei Turchi.
The houses there were spectacular, as was the view!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Primer to Driving in Sicily: Picking Up Your Car from the Catania Airport

Last summer, Nick and I landed in the Catania airport for the first time in our travels.  It is a medium-sized airport that we found pretty easy to navigate.  There is a beautiful new terminal, and a quite serviceable old terminal.  However, when you look for the car rental desks inside the airport, no luck.  To find the car rental office you need to walk to the end of the old terminal, walk outside past the bus stops and you will see a little white trailer on your left across the road.  That is the car rental office.  The nice thing about picking up your car in Catania is that the parking lot is directly behind the car rental office.  No long walk, no searching for your car in a huge parking lot.  It was as easy as pie!  Or cosa facile.  

Getting out of the airport was easy as well.  Good signage, clear lanes - easy.  Then you hit Catania.  Oh. My. God.

Catania is a town that Sicilians love to hate.  I heard all kinds of negatives and slanders about Catania from Sicilians all over the island.  However, we found that Catania has its own beauty, albeit a crumbling beauty.  The nightlife is exciting and there is a vibrancy amongst its people that we really appreciated.  Yet just around the corner in Acireale you can find traditional Sicily.

Set up for a midnight jazz concert in Catania

An Acireale fisherman heading out into the bay just as his father, grandfather,
and great grandfather did. 

The roads in Catania are wide for the most part, and easy to drive, with three exceptions:

  1. There are one way streets everywhere.  
  2. Both streets and lanes merge without warning.
  3. The drivers in Catania are CRAZY.
What this means is that you have to keep your eyes open all the time.  You can't let your attention wander ever.  Let me repeat that.  You cannot let your attention wander ever!  And it is extremely helpful to have a navigator to help you figure out where you are going as you drive.  Even with a GPS, it was necessary to have Nick giving me clearer directions because the GPS is not always completely clear.  Because of this, Nick and I have no pictures of driving in Catania to share on the blog as we were too busy just driving to get the camera out.

I wish I could say that getting out of Catania was as easy as Palermo (which is not particularly easy) but it is not.  There are several autostrada to choose from and if you find yourself on the wrong one, you could be heading towards a part of the island that you had no intention of visiting.  

If you take the Viale Mediterraneo you will get to autostrada E45 also known as A18.  North takes you up towards Taormina and Messina and south takes you towards Siracusa (Syracuse) as far as Rosolini.  

To get to the autostrada that will take you west through the centre of the island, you will have to take E932 also known as A19.  This autostrada will take you west as far as Enna and then north to the E90 about halfway between Termini Imerese and Cefalu'.

The traffic as you either leave or enter Catania is busy and impatient.  Be prepared for people cutting in front of you, honking and waving their arms rudely.  Just take it all as part of the Sicilian experience!

Heading to a toll booth into Catania

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Primer to Driving in Sicily: Picking Up Your Car from the Palermo Airport

When you land in Sicily, you most likely will arrive at one of the airports (you can reach Sicily by ferry as well) which will be where you pick up your rental car.

In Sicily there are three airports that take international flights: Palermo, the largest; Catania on the east coast; and Trapani the smallest of the three.

I can't talk much about the Palermo Airport as we haven't yet flown in there yet, but I will tell you what I have heard and do know.

Picking up a rental car in Palermo is fairly easy, especially if you don't speak Italian.  Most car rental desks have English speaking clerks.  It is a bit of a hike to the car rental areas if you have some mobility issues or if it is mid-summer and crazy hot.  Where it gets really interesting is when you leave the airport.  Palermo is full of twists and turns and narrow streets and crazy drivers.  I found this video on Youtube which shows you some of what driving in Palermo can be like.  Warning - they drop a couple of "F-bombs" which is quite understandable considering that they are totally lost.

This is from the miobbi Youtube channel.

Once you manage to find your way out of Palermo, and that is no mean feat, you will find yourself on the autostrada heading, well just about anywhere in Sicily.  That autostrada is called Viale Regione Siciliana or E90.  Depending on which direction you take, you might find yourself in the beautiful Castellammare del Golfo, or you could land in the equally beautiful but touristy Cefalu.  And off the E90 you can take smaller highways to take you to places like Corleone, from The Godfather, or Sperlinga, a tiny town in which people used to live in caves.

Streets of Corleone

Anti-Mafia Museum

Central Bar with the Godfather theme
Entrances to the cave homes in Sperlinga

After climbing the hill with our slightly reluctant guide

Entrance to a cave home

Inside a cave home

If you want to read more about Sperlinga (and it is a fascinating place) I would recommend The Stone Boudoir by Theresa Maggio.  Her book is about the interesting mountain villages that can be found in Sicily.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Primer to Driving in Sicily: Before You Leave Home

Approaching Catania

It occurred to me last summer, that a primer to driving in Sicily would be a very useful thing, especially since Sicily has a real lack of convenient public transit and renting a car truly is the best way to get the most out of visiting the island.  I thought I would begin with a video by Bruno Bozzetto called Yes and No: Driving in Italy. Short of seeing people's dogs flattened and people killed on the street, I have seen almost everything that he has put into his video.  In fact, I have actually done a couple of the "no"s and several of the "yes"s.

I want to thank Bruno Bozzetto and his daughters Anita and Irene for giving me permission to embed his video on my blog.  He makes great videos and if you want to see more, I suggest you check out his Youtube channel!

I don't pretend to be an expert on driving in Italy.  I have had, now, about 9 weeks of experience driving in Italy - most of which was in Sicily.  When we rent a car, I do all the driving.  It is much cheaper renting a standard shift than an automatic and my darling husband, Nick, is not comfortable with a stick shift, nor does he like driving unfamiliar roads much.  Also, it costs an extra €7 per day to have an extra driver so I play chauffeur.  At some point, once we figure out how to get insurance without being residents, we will buy a car - probably some beat up old Fiat - but for now we rent.

Before You Leave Home

There are a couple of things that you need to know before you leave home.
Our Fiat Panda rental car
International Driving Permit
(in case you couldn't read the picture!)
  1. You MUST be at least 18 to drive in Italy.  No ifs ands or buts about it.  
  2. If you don't have an EU licence, you need to get an International Driving Permit.  In Canada, you can go to your local Automobile Association (even if you don't have a membership) with your driver's licence and for a minimal fee (in my case it was $25) you can get your IDP.  The IDP provides a translation of your driver's licence into numerous different languages.  It is good for one year.
  3. Rent your car through a travel agent at home.  It is cheaper renting it outside of Italy and, more importantly, you get better comprehensive insurance.  Trust me.  I don't care how good or experienced a driver you are.  You might be the stunt driver for Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me (which just happens to take place in Italy) or Jason Statham in Transporter, you still need the best comprehensive insurance possible.  
  4. When selecting the type of car, think about the smallest car you can get away with and then get one size smaller.  We had a Fiat Panda last summer.  Very nice little car - peppy, comfortable, easy to drive - but I still wished I had a smaller car.  If you can get away with a smartcar or a Fiat 500 you are better off.
  5. You will need sunglasses if you are there in the summer.  Find the coolest possible sunglasses - either designer or believable knock-offs.  In Italy you need to put on the best bella figura (literally: beautiful figure - it's all about making a good impression).
  6. Take meditation classes before you leave.  While driving in Sicily can be fun, you are guaranteed to have some heart-stopping moments.  Anything you can do to lower your blood pressure and stress level when those moments happen will do you some good.  "Om mani padme hum".  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Windsock Warning

All right, I will admit it.  Sometimes I get a little silly.  When we were driving in Sicily last summer, I noticed a traffic sign that we don't have in Canada - or at least I have never encountered it.  Inside the red-rimmed warning triangle was the image of a windsock.

"What the heck does that mean?" I asked Nick.  

"What?" Nick replied, being, of course, the passenger and not paying attention to road warning signs with such stunning countryside to watch instead.

"It was a warning sign with a windsock in the middle.  What is that?  Watch out for roving windsocks?"  And off I went - images of roving windsocks - herds of them crossing the empty Sicilian landscape. 'I have to write a poem about this.' I thought.  So, finally, this morning, months after I got the idea, I put fingers to keyboard and came up with this.

Windsock Warning

When we arrived in Sicily,
I must say,
I did not expect to see
Warnings of such a dire nature.
Such a beautiful and ancient land
Marred by roving herds of terrifying beasts.

Stopping in a village for a gulp of il caffe' and a bite of a brioche
We met a group of men, young, middle-aged, and pensioners
Playing cards at tables set out on the sidewalks.

"Where are you from?" they asked.
"Canada.  We are driving to Cianciana." we replied.
"Through the mountains?" one man asked us in a shocked voice.
"Certo. Of course." we answered. "It's the fastest route."
Shaking their heads, they gave us this advice:

"Watch for the signs!" we heard.
"Don't be fooled by the bright colours.  These creatures are dangerous."
"They travel at night - whatever you do, don't stop your car at night!"

"But what do they want?" I asked, voice querulous and hushed.
"The sea.  They want to get to the sea." came the answer.
"They run down anything that gets in their way!" one voice told us.
Another voice shuttered. "It happened to my cousin.  We couldn't even recognize him when they were gone."

I shuttered.  
"But what are they called?"
There was a silence.  They were afraid to say the name.
Finally, a boy stepped forward, chest out, wanting to show that he was not afraid. "Manica a vento.  "Windsocks.  They are called windsocks."
The men winced at the boy's boldness.

Awkward silent filled the air between us. 
Breaking the tension I asked, "Is it never safe?"
Relieved, they laughed, "Oh yes!" they chorused.
One ancient man turned to us and smiled.
"When they reach the sea at night, they curl themselves into a tight roll.  In the morning they wake and open as ombrelloni, beach umbrellas."

They all sighed with palpable relief.
"Si', that is when they are content." one man added.
The ancient man looked me in the eye, with all his years of wisdom he told me,
"That is when you can walk in the sand amongst them.  That is when you are safe."

And with that pronouncement, the men nodded, pick up their cards and resumed their play.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekly Photo Challenge - Renewal

Every week, The Daily Post sets a weekly photo challenge.  This week's challenge is "Renewal"

Sunrise in Delia, Agrigento
I have been a teacher for just shy of 30 years.  Sadly, in the past few years the government has funded education less and less and it has become harder and harder to be a teacher.  At 51, by the time the school year is over, I am completely and thoroughly exhausted.  Last school year was no different.  On July 10th we arrived in Catania, drove to Delia to stay with our friend, Marilena.  After a wonderful, relaxing sleep, I woke early, got up and walked out onto the terrazza to see this spectacular sunrise.  I snapped the picture and then I stood and watched the sun come up.  For the first time in a couple of months I felt a wonderful lightness, a new purpose and a real joy.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Cappuccino in the Morning: Part II

Coffee marks time in Italy.  Espresso at the bar on the way to work in the morning.  Cappuccino before noon.  Gulp back your espresso and head out of the bar in minutes.  It is a caffeine-laced labyrinth if you want to immerse yourself in coffee culture in Italy.  Here are a few rules that I gleaned from a Telegraph article from 2009.  

Let's start with the word 'espresso'.  In North America, and I presume in the UK, espresso is used in coffee shops or when you purchase coffee in the store to indicate a particular kind of coffee.  In Italy, all coffee is espresso therefore if you simply want an espresso, you order il caffe'.  I remember making this mistake a couple years ago.  We were in a hotel in Marina di Ravenna that included breakfast.  The first morning our hostess asked us if we wanted il caffe' and I specified espresso.  She gave me a very odd look and said, "Si', il caffe'" then shook her head presumably thinking she was dealing with an ignorant foreigner - which I was - at least about coffee.

As I mentioned, cappuccino should only be consumed before noon and even then between 11am and noon is questionable.  The thinking behind this is that hot milk is not good for you on a full stomach which you presumably would have after lunch.  And god forbid that you should order a cappuccino after a meal in a restaurant.  This would certainly label you as a boorish foreigner.  What applies here to cappuccino also applies to any other coffee drink that contains milk.

A "Godfather"-themed bar in the town of Corleone

Coffee is ordered in a bar.  Bars are not quite the same as in North America.  Besides serving alcohol, they also serve coffee, soft drinks, gelato, pastry, panini, pizza, and (if you are lucky and in Sicily) arancini.  Children can enter bars.  Bars open in the morning and, at least in Cianciana in the summer, stay open until 2 or 3 in the morning.

Our favourite bar in Cianciana - Antico Bar Trieste

Waiting for il caffe' with our new friend, Gaetano

In Canada, if I go to a coffee shop and order a coffee, I will sit and sip my coffee taking my time to finish it.  In Italy, if you drop by a bar to order il caffe', you stand at the bar, stir in heaping spoonfuls of sugar and toss your coffee back quickly.  Afterwards you drink the glass of water they often offer you, and then you head off out the door - no wasted time.  Another note - if you are living in a small town, you should spread your custom between all the bars in order to stay on friendly terms with everyone.

What to call your coffee: these are just a few of the options you can get in a bar.

Il caffe' - we would call this espresso.  It will have a thin light brown foam on top which is called 'crema'.  You will hear the gentlemen in the bar discussing the quality of the crema as it is considered a very important part of the quality of the coffee.

Caffe' Hag - this is decaf.  It is the name of the largest producer of decaf coffee and has been adopted as the general name for it.

Caffe' Americano - this is a much weaker and more bitter coffee and is closer to what is normally served in North America.  Italians also call this acqua sporca or dirty water which tells you what they think of it.

Caffe' con Panna - espresso topped with whipped cream.  Yum!

Caffe' Corretto - espresso with a small shot of liquor - often grappa (very strong Italian liquor) but other liquors can also be use.

Cappuccino - pretty much the same as in North America.

Caffe' Macchiato - espresso with just a touch of milk and foam.

Food that you can get in a bar:

Gelato in a brioche (sweet bun) - any place that serves ice cream in a sweet bun for breakfast is alright with me!

This is an arancine - it is a deep fried rice ball stuffed with meat ragu' or spinach and cheese or ham and cheese.  Truly a gift from the Sicilian culinary gods!
No description needed.

Cappuccino in the Morning: Part I

I may not be in Sicily right now, but there is one part of Italian culture that I am enjoying as I am writing this post.  I am sitting at the diningroom table, tapping away on my Macbook's keyboard and sipping appreciatively at a cappuccino.  After Nick and I returned from Italy two years ago, we knew that we couldn't go back to the Canadian coffee standard - a Timmie's double double.  (For those of you who are not Canadian - a Timmie's double double is a Tim Horton's coffee with two cream and two sugars).  We started buying espresso, pulled out our little espresso coffee pot - stained and beat up -  and we began to make espresso every morning.

On mornings when we had time, I would heat up some milk and blend it until it foamed up.  Perhaps not quite the same as steaming the milk, but it is a close second.  Then I would pour in a little of the milk and spoon the foam all over the top of the espresso.  I love a foamy cappuccino!  I haven't yet figured out a way to make the patterns on the top like you would get from a professional barista.

It took me a while to find the perfect espresso.  I wanted an espresso with a dark, rich taste, organic and fair trade.  My favourite coffee company, Level Ground Trading, doesn't have an espresso line, so after doing a little searching I discovered Kicking Horse Coffee.  Kicking Horse has a line called Cliff Hanger Espresso. It is both organic shade grown coffee and certified fair trade.

Even when I don't have time to make a cappuccino in the morning, I always have time for at least an espresso.  It takes me, even for a few moments, back to Sicily, back to our second home.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Visions of Our New Home

Just recently we received an email from Scott, our intrepid contractor, giving us an update.

Hi Diane

Hope you are both well, just wanted to touch base with you.  We have actually paused on your place for a few weeks to get some critical work done before the rains set in.  You have a new roof and terrace floor, and you also have a nice large garage room opened up with walls stripped off.  Bedroom wall is in and plastered.

As soon as we get back onto your place I'll give you a shout and keep you updated.

All the best


One of the things that I appreciate about Scott is the communication.  He sends us regular updates which keeps me on edge and chomping at the bit to see how everything is coming.  If I could snap my fingers it would be the end of June and we would be packing for our flight to Sicily.

Scott is on the extreme right and his partner Matt is third from the right in the blue shirt.  

Last night I was looking at the  Agenzia Immobiliare My House (realtor) photos of when it was still on the market.  So, here is what Casa Cacciato will likely look like when it is all done and furnished.

We will be keeping the upper cabinets but the sink, stove & oven and little white cabinet will all be replaced by a long wooden countertop, a new double sink and a five burner gas stovetop.

This is our bedroom.  The walls will be painted white and the plaster along the bottom of the wall will be fixed up.  The closet in the corner is a walk-in closet, small but still a walk-in.  And it comes with a safe!  Never had a safe in a house before.
This is the guest bedroom.  Again, it will be painted white.  We figured we would add colour with paintings and some of my photographs.

This is the sitting-room off of the guest bedroom.  We have almost the identical sitting-room off our bedroom as well.  The window on the right is actually part of a door that opens onto a balcony.

This is our street, Cortile Arcuri.  Casa Cacciato is on the extreme left - the grey house with the brown door.  As you can see, the end of the street overlooks the distant hills. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

One Hundred Reasons to Blog4Peace

November 4th is Blog4Peace Day.  I may not have a hundred reasons but here are my thirty reasons to blog for peace.

My dad was one of the most peaceful people I have ever known.
  1. We have a responsibility to our children.  The United Nations listed the rights that all children should have.  None of these can be upheld if our children don't live in peace.
  2. Our world is greater than just the human race.  When there is no peace we destroy our environment and the environment that supports all other life - plant and animal.
  3. The more people who are talking about peace, the more power the words have.
  4. When I blog about peace, it reminds me to struggle for peace in every aspect of my life from the smallest interaction to the loudest protest.
  5. The simplest idea can become the tidal wave of change tomorrow.
  6. I don't want to live in a world in which situations like Darfur are ignored and unknown by most people.
  7. I believe that every drop of positive energy that I release into the world dilutes the evil.
  8. I believe that all of the money that is spent on war and on the war on drugs could be spent on feeding our hungry, healing our sick, and educating our young.
  9. The waves of every gunshot, every bomb explosion, and every war related death washes over us all.  We need to keep ourselves clean of this evil.
  10. Just because we have war today, doesn't mean we need to have war tomorrow.  I really believe that the world is becoming a more just place.
  11. "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace." Jimi Hendrix
  12. I have learned that I don't want hate or anger in my life, and my life includes all that is in this world.
  13. I want to live in a world that someone's colour, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, culture, passport, or any other characteristic that currently separates people no longer means anything and that we can live without labelling one another.
  14. I am proud of both my father and my uncle.  They were both in the army in WWII.  My father never got any farther than England.  He spent his time during the war ironing other soldiers' uniforms for a dollar so that on his days on leave he could travel around England and sit in the peaceful English countryside (the parts that were not being bombed) and sketch.  I have on the wall in my dining room, framed pencil sketches of Salisbury Cathedral, Dover, and Abertillary Wales.  My uncle, my father's oldest brother, did get beyond the English shore.  He was with the Allied Forces that landed in Sicily.  My uncle Rex was, however, a medic.  He spent the war keeping people alive.  He was awarded the Military Medal because he kept two severely wounded men alive for three days in a foxhole in spite of the shells that were raining down around them.  I am very proud that neither my father nor my uncle Rex were responsible for adding to the pain and suffering, that in fact my uncle relieved suffering and my father created beautiful things.    
  15. I think that by standing up for others' rights I am standing up for my own as well.
  16. "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." Mother Teresa
  17. If I blog or speak out for peace it helps me confront my own fears.
  18. John Lennon touched my heart.
  19. Writing this reminds me that there are so many things that I can email my MLA or MP about.
  20. Whatever we believe about the creator of the universe - God, Higher Power, Big Bang, Mohammed, the Goddess, or whatever else we believe in - He, She, It, deserves our best efforts to protect it.
  21. "Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace." Buddha
  22. Not to be trite, but I really believe that the pen is more powerful than the sword, and that the Internet and social media are even more powerful than the pen.  (think Arab Spring).
  23. I think if enough people declare world peace then just maybe it might just happen.
  24. To celebrate - not just tolerate - every person in this world.
  25. I think that all those who love should have the right to marry and that the shape of their genitalia or their chromosomes should have nothing to do with anything.
  26. One day, Nick and Miyuki and I were sitting on the beach at Marina di Ravenna and we were approached by a man selling sunglasses, hats and watches.  I apologized and said we hadn't brought any money to the beach.  Instead of just moving off to the next potential customer, he stopped and sang a Bob Marley song to us.  This was his way to spread peace across the beach even though he wasn't making much money that day.
  27. For Nick and Miyuki.
  28. Because Neil taught me that it is better to live in peace than it is to insist on being right.
  29. "Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding."  Albert Einstein
  30. Laughter can lead us to peace.  Which leads me to my final quote - from the late great George Carlin who taught me the seven dirty words you cannot say on television which my friends and I whispered to each other back and forth in French class (my apologies to Mme Petrovich) - "Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity."  Let's keep it peaceful.

Peace for my darling girl...

...and my sweet husband.