Wandering and Wondering

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Italy kicked Sicily into the sea

Last weekend I went on a field trip to Sicily, hoping for some warm weather which until then hadn’t yet arrived in Florence. As per the Vienna trip we travelled by overnight train and once again I didn’t get much sleep. The most interesting part of the journey was when the train carriages (with us still inside) were loaded onto the ferry for the short trip over the water from mainland Italy to the island of Sicily:

Train tracks on the ferry


On Friday morning we arrived at the train station in Catania and transferred by bus to the town of Taormina, which is up in the hills with a great view out over the Mediterranean. Francesco, once again our guide for the trip, explained the history of Sicily to us and the important role it played as a trading post in the Greek empire.

Church in the main piazza of Taormina


After a brief wander around the town, we stopped at a small cake shop to sample some of the local cannoli that Sicily is famous for. They are basically tube shaped shells of fried pastry with a filling of sweetened ricotta cheese. I went out the back to have a sneak peak at how they are made:

Making Cannoli


Sicily is also famous for its fruit and vegetables, which are exported all around Europe. One of the main reasons for this is the rich volcanic ash that is deposited on the soil from Mount Etna. Unfortunately the weather was too cloudy for us to get a good view of the volcano, but occasionally when the clouds parted we got a glimpse of the snow on its upper reaches.

Giardini Naxos


In the afternoon we visited the beach-side town of Giardini Naxos, where we had some time to go for a swim and laze on the beach. This is one of the few places in the world where you can go skiing on Mt Etna in the morning, and then go swimming at the beach in the afternoon. Not a bad lifestyle. When we were there, however, it wasn’t the best weather for swimming so I only had a quick dip and then spent the rest of the time playing soccer on the beach.

In the evening we headed to our hotel in Siracusa, and after a dinner of seafood (the first I’ve eaten since being in Italy) we checked out one of the local pubs before calling it a night. The next morning we were up early again for a full day visit of Siracusa. The first stop was the archaeological park, which is home to a spectacular Greek Amphitheatre:

Ancient Greek Amphitheatre


We then ventured underground into the catacombs beneath the San Giovanni church:

Catacombs beneath the San Giovanni Church


In the afternoon we had a look around the island of Ortigia, which is the historical heart of the town. The fish markets showed a very interesting array of fresh seafood:

Fishy


After walking around all day, we finally got a chance to give our feet a rest when we went for a short cruise on the Mediterranean:

Mediterranean sun


On Sunday we visited the world heritage listed town of Noto. After the old town was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, many famous architects and sculptors were invited to help build a new town. Many of the buildings and palaces of the town are decked out with ornate adornments such as the following:

Fancy balustrades on a balcony in Noto


In the afternoon we ended our stay in Sicily with some more time at the beach before boarding the train back to Florence.

Hand-stand


As I write this, it seems that Spring has finally arrived in Florence, with some warm weather and the first green leaves starting to appear on the trees. To make the most of it, I plan on making some excursions out into the Tuscan countryside over the next few weeks, so stay tuned for the photos.

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