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Monthly Archive: October 2019

10/19 – Agrigento

As we’ve traveled around Sicily, we’ve made some observations. Here goes!

  • Low to the floor beds!  5 out 6 beds have been ridiculously low to the ground.  Only one bed has had box springs. We wonder what someone who grew up here thinks the first time he/she sees a U.S mattress and box springs on a high bed frame??  Mark says all the pillows are flat, too!
  • “Transition” coats – We learned this term from a German friend who says there’s no good English translation for the German word but it amounts to a light Fall jacket.  We see people in puffy coats all the time; meanwhile, Mark has his shorts on and Susan is wearing capris and no jackets.  Sicilians don’t seem to be very fond of A/C or drafts either. Scarves are everywhere and not for decoration.  One of the ladies working in the Poste today had a heavy scarf around her neck. We couldn’t even tell any A/C might be on!
  • Signage in National Archaeological Parks or the lack thereof – After visiting 3 of these sites, we’ve determined no extra money is spent on signage to guide visitors around the sites in a logical or even illogical order.  One site had a pretty good map; one had a barely useful map; and one had none at all!  The ticket guy just shrugged when I asked for one. Why would I need a map? A few arrows along the way would help visitors decide if the track leads someplace – like to a temple – or if it’s just a track made by visitors? When they do have a “path”, let’s just say some of the paths would never quite be approved by the U.S. NPS!
  • Laundry  … just typical European washing machines – The wash and rinse process takes a minimum of 90 minutes. Why do our clothes need rinsed and spun 3 times??
  • Toilets – our grades for public toilets are based on 4 things: toilet paper, soap, water, and a hand dryer/paper towels. We haven’t found many that score 4/4. We carry TP and a hand towel with us along with hand sanitizer.
Agrigento is known for the Valley of the Temples, a large complex of important Greek/Roman/Byzantine sites. We walked all over the complex for about 3.5 hours and 4 miles in the sun!
Temple of Juno at Valley of the Temples
Walking up the hill to Temple of Juno. Toilets and a snack bar were at the bottom of this hill.
Must need a snack back in town after the Temple day. The cannoli shells are baked but empty when you order. The baker fills the shell when you order to insure freshness.
Later in the day, we visited the Cathedrale which was magnificent. The path we chose involved walking UP about 200 steps to wind our way through town to the top of the hill because where else would a cathedrale be built?
Mark walked up the inside of the church to get the view from near the painted ceiling. He didn’t go higher when he heard thunder and saw black clouds.
Sure enough! It poured while we had a drink on an outdoor patio. Thank heavens the umbrella over the table kept us dry.
Some steps with a few local cats hanging out!

10/19 – Ragusa

Ragusa is another hill city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692; rebuilt up high but the aristocrats liked the lower part better. They rebuilt there, separated by a valley. Lower Ragusa is the most scenic part as far as tourists go.

We took the bus from Modica to Upper Ragusa (only place the bus goes); found the local bus to Lower Ragusa, guessing where to get off. The streets are narrow, winding, and all UP or DOWN. Lots of houses appear abandoned. You could buy one if you’re in the mood to deal with Italian bureaucracy for the sale and then all the workers to renovate it.

Of course, to return to Modica, we did the whole thing in reverse. Riding buses in Sicily would be MUCH easier if any of the bus stops happened to have a posted schedule on it or even show the bus numbers. In Ragusa, the bus route number was handwritten on white cardboard and placed in the bus window. The schedules must be passed from generation to generation!

Lower Ragusa from the bus as we drove to upper Ragusa
Duomo dome above the buildings in the narrow street
Narrow street to walk up to the Duomo.
For some reason, the duomo doesn’t sit flush with the piazza. It’s at an angle to the piazza which is on a hill! Notice the steps UP to the entrance to the church.
Table with legs on a block to level the table
When the tables sit on a sloped piazza, the only solution is to use blocks to make the tables level. Quite clever!

10/19 – Modica

Modica is a hill town in Sicily, famous for making chocolate! When the word “hill” is used to describe anything in Sicily, you can count on MANY hills and steps to move around the town. Modica is a lovely town; if you visit, make sure you check the location of your B&B or hotel. You could find yourself lugging suitcases up MANY steps to find the correct street!

Panorama shot from the overlook at the top of Modica. We took a little train around the city to get up high.
Upper and lower Modica with the cathedral. All the buildings are approximately the same color.
Church of San Pietro – 23 steps to get to the door. These steps are a popular place for local teenagers to hang out in the evening.
“Steps to nowhere” or up to the next street through the arch.
Modica chocolate tour factory. They make it without any added milk products. It’s pretty yummy! The tour had plenty of samples including a small sample of Italian hot chocolate. It tasted like melted chocolate to me – quite thick.
We saw some amazing bridges! This is the view from the balcony of our AirBnb in Modica. The train station is below the bridge and only entailed a short uphill walk pulling our carry-on sized suitcases.
The other great part about our balcony was watching the parking adventures below. Lines are optional and turning on the blinkers seems to make parking OK wherever you put the car.

10/14 Siracusa

Sicily is an island – check.  Sicily has LOTS of cactus (prickly pear, cholla) growing – check.  So what’s the climate like??  The island would make you think humid and the cactus makes me think dry.  You are correct on both counts.  The land is pretty dry, supporting the cactus, but lots of citrus orchards dot the island.  The air on the other hand is quite humid, at least by Colorado standards. 

We’ve had great weather with very little rain, lots of sun, and some major wind thrown in.  My hair has been pulled up many days because the air is so humid that when we’re in the sun, my hair is wet from all the sweat!  I’ve given up on curling the hair and just use tons of hair spray to keep it out of my face!

We spent 5 nights in Siracusa, staying on the island of Ortygia. At this time of year, abundant tour groups appeared every day in the narrow streets. By night, we had the streets pretty much to ourselves and were on a first name basis with the owner of Gusto, a gelateria!

View from our apartment in the Jewish Quarter of Ortygia.
Greek walls in Duomo walls
The duomo was built on the site of a Greek/Roman temple and incorporates the columns into the church walls.
A column or two are visible on the outside of the Duomo.
In contrast to the Duomo, this Basilica was built to our Lady of Lacrime in the 1990’s, I think. This pointy roof is visible from all over the city.
The archaeological park is the big attraction in Siracusa with a Roman theatre and a Greek theatre (this one). We wandered all over, up and down, waiting for the rain to come. The sky looks blue here but it quickly turned to black!
The day at the Greek theater Garmin told me I walked 37 flights of steps!
This board is the Funeral announcement board for Funeral masses and memorial commemorations.
As far we can tell, Michelin is a sponsor of this church – maybe some renovations??
Susan holding a wine galss.
I needed some prosecco after we got caught in a rain storm!

10/10 Blowing away on Mt. Etna

We wanted to see Mt. Etna and booked a day trip with a driver and guide, John Franco. He was knowledgeable about volcanoes as well as about local food. Mt. Etna has multiple calderas. We went to the South side which is set up for tourists – parking lot with shops and food, a cable car to the top which stopped a few times on the way up; a bus at the top to take us farther up the volcano where the guide walked us inside the caldera. He tried to educate us along the way but the wind was slo strong no one could here the guide.

All the guys working up on the mountain looked like they could be employed in Colorado ski resorts – down jackets, ski hats, scarfs.

Etna is rarely not windy; the day we went the wind was howling! The mountain guide cut the walk short when he decreed the wind was too heavy to walk safely. I’d been thinking the same thing for about 15 minutes!

The mountain was in the clouds when we got to the top. This rock is indeed helping to hold the little building in place!
Lava fields
Lava fields inside the caldera. The lava was warm in a few places and we could smell the sulfur when the wind blew in the “correct” direction.
Large boulder holding building down.
The wind was still howling at this point but John Franco snapped a picture. Thank heavens I had a hood to keep my ears relatively warm. Mark passed on the shorts for this excursion but lots of guys had them on and did not look very happy!

10/10 On to Taormina

Stop number 2 in Sicily was Taormina and we took the Interbus from Catania – not a bad ride for about an hour and only cost $7.50 each. Taormina is a very touristy town set on a hill with beaches below. At this time of year, it was crowded during the day with cruise ship gaggles and tour groups. At night, it was a little more calm. We stayed in a VRBO right outside the old town, making for a nice walk every day. Yes, we got at least 10,000 steps every day and many of them were on hills and actual steps to move between levels.

This was the view from our patio. They guess it was a bath but no one can find the source of the water. Watching traffic go by on a hill, stop on a hill, double park, blow horns was good entertainment.
The Ionian Sea.
Aperol spritzer and an arancini (rice ball with various fillings mixed in)
Seafood is huge here, given that Sicily is an island. We ate seafood risotto and seafood pasta one night. Yes, it was yummy!
Italian breakfast – granite (crushed ice, lemon and a bit of sugar) and a brioche. The pink one is a strawberry granite
Panorama of the Greek theater, a mere 2000 years old, with Mount Etna looming in the background
We were at the top of the Greek theater where you can see Mount Etna really well on a clear day. It’s not very far away!

10/9 – Bus riding lessons in Sicily

We’re in Sicily using public transport to get around the island.  Sunday, we needed to go from Taormina to Siracusa and decided to use Interbus again. With no direct bus except at 8:15 AM, we had to take the bus from Taormina to Catania and then take another bus to Siracusa.  Well, we learned one thing!  Check where the FIRST stop is for the bus on a busy route and board the bus there, if possible. 

We took Bus 1 all the way to the aeroporto in Catania, knowing that a bus goes to Siracusa from there.  Little did we know that the bus route actually starts in the middle of Catania.  By the time Bus 2 arrived at the airport, it was very full on a Sunday at 12:40.  (We knew this was possible since the bus lady said the bus was full when I asked about a departure time.)  Given that the next bus to Siracusa didn’t leave until 2:40 PM, we REALLY wanted on this one – didn’t want to hang out at the aeroporto for 2 more hours.

We did our best European/Italian “what’s a line?” act!  Mark took the bags to put them under the bus in the luggage compartment – it’s all self-service – while Susan stood as close to the curb as she could when the bus approached.  She was the third person on the bus when the driver muttered to the lady in front of her something in Italian.  I could tell by her expression it probably translated to “The bus is full”. I asked him in English and the driver replied, “I have only 2 seats”. (The lady needed more than 2.)  I quickly said, “We are 2” and motioned to Mark to push through the crowd at the door and get on the bus! 

It worked!  We were a bit squished for the 1 hour ride and Mark had to make some young lady move her purse out of a seat but we had seats and left everyone else to curse the Italian bus ticketing system and maybe us, too.

Mount Etna spewing smoke
We could see Mount Etna spewing smoke while we waited for a bus at the Catania airport.

10/9 – Catania, Sicily

We flew to Catania from Munich on an uneventful flight. The luggage people were as slow as Denver getting our bags! We figured out the Alibus, took it to town and walked to our B&B on narrow little sidewalks along streets with no street signs. Google maps was our friend at 7:15 PM as it was getting dark!

Catania is every stereotype you’ve heard of Sicily – old, lots of graffiti, and garbage in the streets – but it is pretty inexpensive to eat and drink in the neighborhoods and we had some good food during our 2 days here. Aperol spritzers were 4 euro and beer was 1 euro!

One day we went to the WWII Museum to learn about the British, American and Canadian invasion of the island. I would not have wanted to be one of those soldiers dealing with all the hills/mountains, heat and humidity.

Duomo square in Catania
The Duomo in Catania. We gave up counting how many churches we passed walking around the city.
Fish head with lie in fish market
Catania has a large fish market near where we stayed. This guy still had the fishing line attached to him while they cut him up.
Plates of oyster and half lemons
We’re not oyster fans but, if you are, you can buy plates fresh at the market. These are large oysters and there were also plates of smaller ones.
Pasta and seafood in a paper wrapper
This was dinner one night – seafood and pasta cooked in a paper wrap. It was yummy – and we assume fresh!
If you don’t want fish, you can always buy a chicken to cook.
Greek theater in middle of Catania
Greek theatre in the middle of Catania. Houses are built into the walls and the Church of San Francis of Assisi is just behind it. The numbers and directions to follow on the walking tour left a bit to be desired. This time of year is pretty slow for tourists. We had it almost to ourselves.
Just a few extra columns laying around.
Screen on a window attached with concrete
This is one way to have screens on your window! The top one is a “real” screen fitted in the window. The bottom screen is attached with concrete to the screen and wall.

10/2 – On to Munich and Oktoberfest

THEN it was off to Munich!  We decided to take the train, Deutsche Bahn.  Trains are, after all, more climate conscience and scenic than flying.  We bought the ticket a few months ago and we had a seat reservation from Essen to Munich. 

When you think of Germany, what do you think?  Efficient, great engineering, cars, beer.  You certainly expect the train system to work, right?  Let’s just say, DB did not have a good day on Monday!  Our train arrived in Essen, missing half the scheduled cars (about 8 cars total missing), including the one we had a seat reservation on.  The DB conductor  said, “Sit anywhere”.

“But there are no seats” …

Oh, well”, he shrugged!

We found seats for about 2 hours before two people showed up with reservations in those seats. We gathered up our backpacks and joined the gaggle of people standing in the aisles.  About this time, the train arrived at Frankfurt Airport station; announcements told passengers (in German, of course) to use a different train to Munich and what tracks alternative trains could be found on. 

Mark and I decided to get off the train and see what we could find.  I went to visit the ticket office and managed to find 2 seat reservations on the 2:38 PM train in about an hour. Nope!  The ticket agent discovered that train was cancelled! Like I said, DB was having a bad train day!

We grabbed the next train to Munich with no reservations and managed to find 2 unassigned seats to Munich and chatted with two businessmen – a German and a Belgian.  The German said DB doesn’t do very well in the opinion of Germans. It’s late, equipment problems, rude employees.  If Germany is serious about climate change like they profess, DB needs to get their act together in increase train use and reduce flying and cars!

We arrived in Munich only about 1 hour late so all was well. 

One note … we stayed in a Sheraton Westpark in Munich using points. Great hotel in a convenient location.  For the first time ever in 29 years of visiting Germany, the breakfast breadbasket did not have any German brotchen!  These are yummy crispy rolls and we have NEVER not seen them on the breakfast table.  They’ve been on small B&B tables, brand name hotels, campground bakeries.  What was I supposed to eat my cheese and ham on for breakfast?? 

We’ve had 2 enjoyable days here with friends from University of Iowa, Sam and Josh. Good weather for Oktoberfest, English Gardens, a bit of sightseeing, and visits to 3 tents to compare the differences – Marstall, Spaten, and Hofbrau.
Marstall serves Spaten beer in their test as well as champagne and wine! We opted for beer and pretzels at 11 AM.
We both did some shopping and bought some Bavarian clothes to wear. The dirndl was pretty comfortable but needs a little work done to it when we get home. We are not carrying these around for the rest of the trip. We mailed them home with DHL.
Oxen cooking in the tent
This is one of the oxen being cooked in the Marstall tent. They go through about 97 of them during Oktoberfest, according to last year’s stats.

Jutta showed up on Thursday after work in Munich.  We spent Friday afternoon at Marstall tent enjoying the food and beer.  A table of French guys near us provided the entertainment  as we watched them break 2 glasses (one handle and on big chip out of the top of another one); got told to stop after they danced on the table top – not allowed! They also spilled a glass of beer on the shoes of a Lufthansa flight attendant and she was NOT happy!  She flies to Denver all the time and had just flown back from DC that morning before coming to Oktoberfest.

Mark, Susan and Jutta at the entrance to Oktoberfest. Susan has bright orange shoes on because her other ones fell apart after 20 some years of serving their purpose. Guess I’ll have to do some show shopping in November!
platter of cheese, ham, radishes, pickles on a wooden platter
This was a yummy food platter to go with the beer. No chickens for us this year!

10/2 – First stop – Kettwig, Germany

We had a lovely weekend in Kettwig, Germany, with Jutta who we met in Tanzania in 2017.  She was on our flight from Istanbul to Kilimanjaro, landing at 2 AM, and then in the same hotel before our safaris started.  This was an “0”th birthday and Jutta invited us to her party! We had a great time meeting her friends and celebrating her big day.

Kettwig is on the Ruhr River but was largely undamaged during WWII. Now, it’s a quiet place about 15 km. from Essen where lots of people commute to work.
Window boxes of flowers hanging on slate walls.
First time I’ve ever seen slate used for wall tiles but it’s all over the old town of Kettwig.

9/9/2019 – Birthday visit

Our first stop was in Frederick, MD for overnight and a quick stop at Monacacy Battlefield (Civil War) and Francis Scott Key’s burial site. It was a quick 130 miles to Cumberland, MD and a visit with mom for her birthday. Just by dumb luck, Susan’s high school class had a 65th birthday party that weekend so I managed to catch up with a few old friends.

Birthday cake time!
We took Mom for a drive and visit to the 1812 Brewery in Cumberland, MD. Mainly open on the weekends. Of course, Mom knew 3 people there!
1812 beer in glasses