March 1, 2008
I am woefully behind. Never did write anything during Feb of this year.
I left off at the end of January. Not a month with a great ending. We both got bad colds which included ear infections and bronchitis . Went to the doctor (22 euros a visit- total bill. The copay is 1 euro) and came away with the traditional french shopping sack of drugs. So Keith and I just sat around; I watched some movies, he played on the computer. It is nice not to have to work when you do not fell up to it!
We did have to get ready for the trip though. We both spent minimal time packing, but we had more than enough cloths. Did forget the tour guide book though!
We also just happened to squeeze in a wine tasting with Marie Therese. She has a new blog site too at: http://www.vinsbourgone.blogspot.com where she mentions our wine tasting visit. It is in French however. We have another wine tasting with her this coming week.
I did want to mention that Keith did finish a glass lampshade (Tiffany style). It is wonderful.
Desk Lamp by Keith [better photo next time]
Then my photo club has an exhibit this next weekend. I have a couple of photos in the exhibit, of course.
Black and White
If interested, here is another link; Sue's 2008 photo calendar
Then there is an actual calendar. I am experimenting with the use of this calendar. Not sure how well it works and if I will keep it up, but for now here is the address. Sue's Actual Calendar
Now on to the vacation.
SYRACUSE (or Siracusa )(photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/sue.klein/Syracuse)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. We were still very tired from our colds, and Keith brought along a gastro virus. Kind as he is, he shared it with me. It was not that bad, but we stayed and explored the island of Ortygia, rather than some long voyages by bus into the mountains. It was a little cold too. Wore a coat the whole time. In spite of minor problems, we had a wonderful time.
It is hard to recount this trip without tossing in some facts of history. I hope it is not too boring!
To start our voyage, we took a train from Gevrey to Lyon on Friday and spent the afternoon touring Lyon. That night we stayed at a hotel near the airport.
On Saturday we flew from Lyon to Milan, then Milan to Catania, Sicily (about 65km north of Syracuse). We arrived at the apartment at about 6pm and the proprietor (Massimo) was there to greet us, explain everything and hand us the keys.
We stayed in a part of Syracuse known as Ortygia. We had rented a small apartment for our two week stay. Ortygia is an island and is part of the city of Syracuse. [Ancient Syracuse, includes the nucleus of the city’s foundation as Ortygia by Greeks from Corinth in the 8th century B.C. The site of the city, which Cicero described as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of all”].
Our apartment was small, an open room that was living room, dining room and kitchen. The bed was above, loft style. It was unusually cold when we arrived, and the place was heated by a plug in radiator. I am sure it had been turned on just before our arrival!
After Massimo left, we had to go out and find someplace to buy some food, Massimo had stated that stores would be closed on Sunday. There are several small grocers on Ortygia. The stores are probably about 30 feet by 40 feet and packed with an amazing amount of essentials. So we quickly bought supplies, deposited them back to the apartment and went in search of a restaurant for dinner.
We found a pizza place not far from the Piazza Archimede It was like our experience in Naples. All the workers shouting back and forth to each other, the place seems to be in chaos, but everything arrives at the table hot and delicious. A young American couple were at the table next to us and were in cultural shock. She asked if we spoke English and then asked about the “chaos”. The place was turning away people about ½ hour after we arrived.
There is a different rhythm to life in the south. We found out early Monday morning that work starts at 7am! The road outside of the apartment was under construction. A jack hammer outside the window has a tendency to wake one up. The street workers worked straight through to 2pm and then were gone for the day. An attached apartment in back of us was also under construction, so we had noise from both sides. So much for sleeping in.
Stores close during the afternoon (often from 1pm to 5pm) and reopen in the late afternoon and stay open until 8pm.
Massimo had told us that there was an outdoor market daily on the island, and we went almost every day. The vegetables were fresh and wonderful, even the tomatoes (tomatoes and mozzarella buffalo). It is also orange season, and there were oranges everywhere for sale. Prices were low too, oranges were 0.50 euros a kilo, and all the vegetables were cheap too. We could not believe how low our daily costs were. Going to the market in the morning after breakfast became part of our routine. We bought some of the local goodies (marinated onions, marinated peppers, olives, mozzarella, other cheeses, sausage…. ) from Mario. He would give us a tasted of something, and of course we would buy it.
The island of Ortygia is a warren of small very ancient streets. Many of the streets are very narrow and turn at right angles. Motorcycles can still navigate these streets however, and suddenly there would be one behind us. And as for the streets without right angle turns, small cars came down these (they have no choice) and we had to stand in a doorway to let them pass. We spent lots of time exploring the little streets of Ortygia.
On the island is the Cathedral (Duomo). It was thought that first it was a local worship place, then the Romans built a Temple to Athena over it in the year 480 BC. In the 7th century it was bricked up and converted into a catholic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After a major earthquake in 1693, it was redone with the Baroque façade. In 1927, restorations were done to show off the ancient roots (pillars) of this building.
We also visited the archeology museum in the main part of Syracuse. It was about ½ hour walk from the apartment. It is very interesting museum, laid out by the inhabitants chronologically. The time frame of things there is incredible; objects from the 10th century BC.
Also in Syracuse is the Greek theater. “With a diameter of 138m/453ft and 61 rows of seats hewn out of the rock and providing places for some 15,000 spectators, it is one of the largest theaters in the whole of the ancient Greek Empire. 470 BC” It was changed a few times, and the romans did some major alterations. However, to sit there in the theater that is about 2,500 years old and think of the plays that were performed. Greek plays are still performed during the summer months.
Archimedes was a native son of Ortygia. Due to his fame, one finds things all over named after him; even a pizza restaurant. He had been buried in Syracuse, but the grave was robbed centuries ago. “Wikipedia : Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) was a mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astromomer. Archimedes is considered to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.”
We found the island of Ortygia interesting and enjoyed exploring it. There is renovation everywhere, practically down every street. On the other hand, the actual city of Syracuse is not all that pretty. It is mostly older buildings (not ancient) that look their age. There are lots of concrete apartment buildings. Also some construction going on, a major street was being paved with stones and the park was under complete renovation. Still the city overall has a tossed together feel to it.
We rented a car for two days. Day one we went south, all the way to the most southern tip of Sicily. We had a lunch on the patio overlooking the ocean at Porto Paulo. Heading back north a little we found the Vendicari Nature Reserve (quiet by accident). It is a wonderful stretch of beach with migratory birds. They have a few “duck blinds” where you can watch the birds. We heard lots of noise and wondered what was around the corner. As we turned the corner there was another duck blind. We went inside and low and behold, flamingos; hundreds of flamingos! Unfortunately the blind is not the close and the sun was behind the birds. So my photos are not spectacular. However, I personally was very excited, such a marvelous site. It was a mostly sunny day, and we could also see Etna. Etna is about 70km north of Syracuse. It is rare that one can see the top of Etna.
The second day with the car we went somewhat north to see the ruins of Magara Hyblaea. It was a Greek settlement that was founded around 700BC. Megara Hyblaea is famed as the birthplace of the comic poet Epicharmos (about 550-460 B.C.). This area is full of oil refineries; so in the midst of refineries and oil tankers lies this archaeological ruins of a Greek city. It was not easy to find, but we did find it. The caretaker of this park let us in free, we were the only ones there that day.
After our archaeological tour, Keith headed west. Sue had a slight melt down at one point. We entered the mountainous region. Keith took the road, not a big road that got smaller and smaller and higher and higher. Around it went with sheer drop offs on my side. Finally we reached the village, and I swear that the car was at 70 degree angle! There was no place to park and the road through town was one lane. Keith wondered if we should park and walk around. Park where, on the side of the cliff!! So Keith found the road out of town. The road down actually was wider (two full car widths) and soon met up with a real road, so it was not bad at all. The countryside was indeed beautiful, unfortunately there was not place to stop and both of my hands were grasped tightly on the “oh god” handles!! The hillsides were green and terraced.
We tried another noted village, not quiet as high. However again there was a parking problem. Have to go someday by train or bus.
Keith went by train to Ragusa one day (I did not feel real well). He took the train up and the had intended to take the bus back. When we bought bus tickets (city bus tickets) the woman had explained that the train ride although slow, was beautiful. And indeed Keith said it was. He was glad that I had not gone because the train had to stop at Modica due to some track work. There was a bus that continued to Ragusa. In typical Sicily fashion, the bus driver drove while talking to his friends, gesticulating with his hands, only to take the wheel at the last moment to turn the corners. It was some trip up. Happily the track was open for his return trip. As a train buff he was very happy with his train trip into the mountains. He also said that Ragusa is a very pretty city. Have to see it next time.
That about sums up our wonderful trip. We wanted the chance to see what it would be like to live in Italy, and it was a great experience. Our trip to Sicily 7 years ago was a fast tour by car of the island, only six days. By being on the move constantly, one does not get the sense of the country. This time we did and found it enjoyable.
The same sequence, only reverse for our journey home. We flew from Catania to Milan, and then Milan to Lyon. Took the train from Lyon to Gevrey (we have more train stops in Gevrey now). It was 12 hours from door to door.
Ah the recipe of the month. I combined some of the Sicily experience and made this rice dish up this last week.
2 ripe lemons -1/4 cup max ;see NOTE BELOW 1 leek 1 cup basmati rice 2 TBS olive oil
Cut the leek in to circles or half circles. Put the oil in the pan and sauté the leek. When transparent,add 1 cup of rice to the pan and lemon as follows.
Add the zest of one lemon(optional). Squeeze the juice of the two lemons into a measuring cup and then fill with water to the 2 cup level(directions on my rice is 1 cup of rice to 2 cups water).
Stir all together and cook the rice per package instructions.
This rice has a nice lemon tang, and should go well with chicken or fish.
NOTE: I made it the first time with 2 lemons. Second time one large, but it was too strong. It may depend on the ripeness of the lemon, but be careful not to put too much.