A Travellerspoint blog

Sicily - The Land of Cannoli

all seasons in one day 18 °C
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A short ferry ride takes us from mainland Italy to the island of Sicily and despite it being only about 30 minutes away; it feels like a different country.


First impressions are good. As we cross the channel, the sun is shining and the water is so clear you can see right to the bottom of the sea floor, and then the chaos begins. Once you leave the ferry you drive through Messina, without a doubt the craziest city in all of Italy. We arrive just as school finishes. People running out in front of cars, cars are double, sometimes triple parked, red lights are ignored, car horns fill the air, buses doing U-turns and all other road rules are out the window. Once out of the chaos it seemed we spent 80% of the time driving through tunnels with the occasional glimpse at beautiful mountainous terrain and coastline vistas. After about an hour and a half we arrive at our first Sicilian stop - Cefalu.



We checked into our cosy apartment with ocean views. The sun was shining and we were excited to be spending three nights in this beautiful fishing village. Castle ruins from the Byzantine period sitting on top of a rock (la rocca) complete the backdrop. Walks into town, a seafood lunch to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary and a hike to the top of the rock to explore the castle ruins filled our days.




Before we knew it we were once again packing our bags ready for our next destination – Agrigento.


There is only one reason to visit Agrigento – the Valley of the Temples. We decided to stay in a hotel for the night and after check-in headed straight out. The Greek temples are 2500 years old and sit atop a ridge below the city. They are almost toylike in appearance and certainly dominate the city. Seeing the 1500-year-old olive tree that sits beside one of the temples was an added bonus.


The next day we headed to our final Sicilian destination – Siracusa.


Siracusa was the original Greek settlement in Sicily in 700BC on the island of Ortigia. Remains of a temple built for Apollo dating back to 600BC is still visible and the city’s church has been built to encompass the temple of Athena. A trip to the Archaeological Park where the Greek and Roman Amphitheaters reside and an ancient quarry that the Greeks used to build the temples, now with with caves and caverns that visitors are free to explore. By far these are the oldest ruins we have seen on our trip, a textbook come to life!!



Unfortunately Siracusa did not live up to my expectations. Apart from the small shopping strip, I found Siracusa to be extremely dirty. On the up side, the water was crystal clear, the cannoli’s were amazing, the cappuccinos were the best in Italy and our apartment was spacious with a good shower! Oh and Bret cooked up the best Fish Soup we have ever eaten!

Next stop Tropea.

Posted by AllisonP 08:22 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Under the Calabrian Sun

sunny 23 °C
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We are now at the halfway mark of our journey and after many months of travelling we finally made it to Badolato, a medieval village in Calabria, Southern Italy, population 300. It is also the village where my mum lived until she was nine years old before immigrating to Australia with her family in the mid 1950’s.


Entering the village was a surreal experience. Whilst the locals are used to visitors during the summer months, it is unheard of during the cooler weather and the stares we encountered upon our arrival confirmed this. We met with Francesca, the owner of the house we would be staying in and made our way through the village. Our house for the next week was typical of the village and approximately 300 years old.



Whilst I no longer have any relatives living in the village, my aunty has a sister-in-law who still lives there. A few phone calls between Australia and Badolato regarding our arrival were made and before we knew it we were sitting in Zia Caterina’s house drinking sweet strong coffee and almond liqueur at 10.30 in the morning. The conversation flowed as well as could be expected given my lack of Italian and Zia’s non-existent English and a localised version of Italian. Not far from Zia’s house we found 18 Via Bellini, the house where my mum lived. The house had recently been renovated and whilst it was a shame we didn’t see it in its original state its surroundings appeared to be unchanged.


After a few days in the village the locals were less curious and soon we were saying ‘buon giorno’ to familiar faces on our way to the bar for our morning coffee. We were introduced to Franco, a local photographer who is trying to piece together the history of Badolato, in particular those who left the village. He showed us a book of past residents he was trying to identify. He opened the book and right before me was a photograph of my grandmother! One less person for Franco to identify.

My Mother and some of her family prior to coming to Australia

My Mother and some of her family prior to coming to Australia

Other than playing football or soaking up the sun in the piazza whilst admiring the view there is not much else to do in the village, so we would head to Badolato Marina and the surrounding areas for a look around.


Catanzaro is the main town, which is about 30mins away, a little closer is Soverato where we had Bens Birthday dinner. Although it is quiet now, you can visualise what a party town this place must be in the summer with the open-air bars and disco areas all along the beach. Party, Party Party.


We were told that the soil in Badolato is very fertile and much of the fresh produce eaten is grown in the village. There are plenty of chickens and goats producing milk for cheese. We were fortunate to be able to have a traditional Italian lunch prepared for us by Zia Caterina. Pasta with a meat and tomato sauce followed by chicken and a green vegetable. I’m confident this particular chicken came from the local supermarket and I have no idea what the vegetable was but tasted very much like spinach. Zia Caterina is a great cook – my contribution? I helped drain the pasta!!!


Leading up to our stay we thought 1 week would be way too long in Badolato, in the end it was not long enough. I am sure we will return in the coming years.



Next stop Sicily.

Posted by AllisonP 00:43 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Amalfi Postcards

sunny 20 °C
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After driving through some of the most unappealing areas of Italy we finally made it to paradise – The Amalfi Coast.



We arrived at Atrani, a small village about a 5 minute walk from the town of Amalfi. Having trouble finding our accommodation I walked into the local bar and asked for directions and hit the jackpot. Luigi, the owner, spoke English and was without a doubt the most helpful and friendly Italian we had met.



After settling into our apartment we headed into Amalfi, a very vibrant seaside village geared for the tourist. Souvenir shops are everywhere selling Lemoncello, hand painted ceramic tiles and oversized lemons. The water was crystal clear and despite the black sand that lines the coast it was beautiful and full of character.


The best view of the coastline is from up high so with map in hand we decided to go for a hike and took the “Path of the Gods” route – a 4.5 hour walk from Bomerano to Positano. It was definitely not for the faint hearted. The track was extremely narrow at times with vertical drops of up to 400 meters only a step away. Nerve wrecking at times but well worth it.

Path of the Gods

Path of the Gods


We were told that the drive along the Amalfi Coast is amazing, as long as you’re not driving, so with this mind we caught a bus and left it to an expert.


The roads are winding and so narrow that in places only one vehicle can pass through at a time. With nerves of steel the drivers maneuver the bus around the corners with only centimetres to spare. We took the bus to Salerno and then caught a train to Pompeii, 2 hours later we were walking through the famous town destroyed by a volcano.



Most of our time was spent relaxing, having drinks in the afternoon at Luigi’s bar in the Piazza with the locals, eating the best pizza and dining in the local restaurant.


Everywhere you go on the Amalfi Coast has amazing postcard moments but what we will remember the most about this amazing place is the fantastic people of the small village of Atrani. From the coach who invited Ben to train with him, to Coco the mad Napoli fan who was always in Napoli gear, to the Pizza maestro, and of course Luigi, the local sporting hero who gave us local tips, joked with us, and most of all treated us like a local.

Luigi - my friend

Luigi - my friend

Next stop is Badolato in Calabria, my mothers’ birthplace.

Posted by AllisonP 05:23 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Roma... The good, the bad and the ugly

all seasons in one day 13 °C
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Our time in Rome has come to an end. During our time there we experienced it all – the good, the bad and the ugly.


First, the good.
The food. Like everywhere we have been in Italy the food has been fantastic. The added bonus was that it was cheap. I had read that the Roman specialty was pasta cabonara, so as they say when in Rome……… and it didn’t disappoint.

Trastevere. This is where we called home for the week. Located across the Tiber River it was like stepping into another world. Away from the chaos of Rome it provided a fantastic village atmosphere with great restaurants, people and possibly the best gelato we have had so far.


The History. Of course a visit to Rome wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Colosseum. This ancient arena is huge and looks spectacular. Everything that you would expect. This was the highlight of the boy’s visit. We also visited the Roman Forum, the ancient Rome. Even though the ruins were signed I must admit I had trouble visualizing the original buildings. A pile of rubble was all I saw or as Ben put it ‘a place full of broken stuff’.



We visited Ostia a whole town of ruins just outside of Rome – the Roman Port. Some of the buildings were almost all intact. Amazing given that the town was about 2000 years old – the quiet and state of ruins makes well worth a visit



The Pantheon. Originally a temple to all the Gods, it is now a Catholic Church still used today. Although it is around 2000 years old it is in pristine condition.


The Vatican and Sistene Chapel. We were fortunate to be able to be at St Peter’s Square for the Pope’s Sunday prayers. Religious or not it was hard not to be caught up in the atmosphere.


Despite seeing what seems like hundreds of impressive churches the Vatican was without a doubt the most impressive. I wouldn’t have expected anything less.



The Sistene Chapel on the other hand was a bit disappointing. While still very impressive I thought the Raphael and Map rooms leading into the chapel were just as amazing if not better, perhaps it was the fun police that were everywhere when you entered the chapel.



Treve Fountain. A beautiful fountain in the middle of Rome in a tiny piazza. One of the many crowd pleasers of the city.



The Bad.
The traffic. The navigator insisted we drive right through the middle of Rome instead of the ‘Ring Road’ that runs around the city. Here we are peak hour, Friday afternoon pouring with rain in a city where no one apparently abides by the road rules. It’s each man for himself. No need to be polite in this city, they walk or should I say drive all over you. The traffic is everywhere 3 to 6 lanes go right through the tourist areas, they need to take a leaf out of Florence’s book and close the centre to traffic.


Double parking. Can’t fine a car space? No worries, just park wherever you want. No one cares.

The Ugly.
Beggars. Out of all the places we have been so far, Rome has had the most beggars. Everywhere you go they are constantly asking for money. You soon learn to ignore and keep walking. Ben had remarked that Rome was the first time he felt unsafe at times.

The filth. Perhaps the city should employ the beggars to clean the city. It certainly needs it.

The scam artists. For anyone travelling be careful with your credit cards. Despite being very diligent we were still scammed in Rome and had money taken from our account. A number of calls to the bank, the problem was solved and our money returned. A drama we could have done without.

It is certainly a city everyone should visit once.


Next stop Atrani on the Amalfi Coast.

P.S anyone going to Rome soon might want to check out the videos on RickSteves.com.

Posted by AllisonP 09:29 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

A February to remember....

all seasons in one day 12 °C
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Our time in Florence has come to an end. It is hard to believe we have been here for four weeks, time has flown by. Hilltop villages, museums, paintings, sculptures, churches, skiing, steak and gelato. We sure have made the most of our time in this beautiful city. A city we could definitely live in for a longer period.



Each week we spent a day driving through the Tuscan countryside stopping at a number of amazing hilltop villages along the way. The villages are full of character offering fantastic views of Tuscany. Shops selling hand painted ceramics are everywhere. It is at one of the towns (Pienza) that we experienced porchetta rolls for lunch. Rolled roasted salty pork on a crusty Italian bread roll, a specialty in this region and special it was. Delicious!!!!



We ended up stopping in and driving through over a dozen hilltop towns, here is our top 5 for Hill towns in Tuscany (and Umbria)

1. San Gimignano: The Towers give a little something no other town has.
2. Orvieto: Just amazing town to see in the distance. You could just wander the town for hours if not days.
3. Pienza: Small but beautiful vistas. The sun drenched lunch may have biased us here.
4. Volterra: Amazing vistas and big enough to stay in if you needed without getting bored. The Roman Amphitheatre is just some icing on the cake.
5. Monteriggioni: Tiny but you can feel the history at this place. Ryan loves this small fortified town.



Our most disappointing was Siena; we had considered staying here for the month instead of Florence. Thank goodness we didn’t, not sure what it was but we definitely did not think it lived up to the hype.


Pizza and pasta is a staple throughout Italy, however in Florence its steak. Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a specialty in most of the restaurants. Having not had a good feed of meat since leaving home we decided to give it a go. After a lot of research with the help of Tripadvisor we picked a highly recommended restaurant and booked a table. When we arrived the place was buzzing. No menus here, everyone comes for the steak. After antipasti (salami, pate and eggplant stuff???) our steak arrived. A t-bone steak, cooked medium rare and big enough to feed the four of us. The verdict – good to eat meat again but definitely not for the price we paid for it. Lesson learnt, stick to pasta and pizza.


One of the highlights of Florence was climbing to the top of the Duomo. After climbing hundreds of narrow winding stairs with people coming down as your going up we were rewarded with the most amazing view of Florence, the Tuscan countryside and surrounding snow capped mountains. A fear of heights is not recommended.


The Baptistry is another not to be missed stop with its amazing gold mosaics and Gates of Paradise, the originals reside in the museum at the back of the Duomo. The Gates of Paradise were described by Michaelangelo as one of the most beautiful things he has seen. Seeing it for myself I would have to agree.



We continued to visit Museums with the Palazzo Vecchio and Galileo the pick of them. We could picture our friend Perry Dixon never leaving the Galileo museum that contains an incredible range of scientific instruments from 100's of years ago which have influenced our world of today.



Our next stop is Rome and on the way we stopped at Orvieto.


Wow this is a town we could spend more time at…. Perhaps we will when we move permanently to Florence in the years to come or is that just another dream.


Posted by AllisonP 00:14 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

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