Thursday, December 30, 2010

Alcantara


The Alcantara River is another stunning natural wonder just a short drive from where we live. From the Calatabiano Castle we decided to follow the small winding road that meanders through the Alcantara Valley and is part of a regional park (Parco Fluviale Dell'Alcantara). The further inland you get, the more the river becomes a gorge, and at one point we were able to stop and peer over a little bridge and view the amazing basalt rock formations created through erosion by the flowing river. Even further inland you can enter the deepest part of the gorge, but we'll save that for another day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Calatabiano's Castle



Nothing like a Sicilian zampognari playing holiday tunes from an Arab-Norman castle with a view to cure our post-holiday food coma yesterday. While the Sicilian bagpipes were the real excuse to visit this spot, turns out Calatabiano's castle is a great place to experience even without the added folklore of zampognari.

First of all, to reach the castle you can opt to take a special 'ascensore', which I found to be more of a tram than an elevator as the person manning the ticket booth/gift shop called it. Both the ascensore and castle are visible from the A18 Autostrada, and until yesterday I always wondered what that strange looking contraption going up the side of the mountain was. Certainly makes the ascent a dramatic experience and may have been the best moment of the day for the 3 year old.

Once you reach the castle, you will surely be impressed by the lovely views from the top: all that coastline, the tantalizingly nearby peaks of Taormina and Castelmola, bright green terraced hillsides, and even the rushing speck of the Alcantra River below.


Turns out the the ascensore, along with the excellent walking paths and numerous interesting outdoor/indoor spaces you will find in the castle, are all the result of a restoration project that was completed about a year and half ago. The castle is not that large, but there is plenty to explore including some excavated finds, the remains of a tower, lots of castle windows, each framing its own unique view of the surrounding landscape, as well as a glass-enclosed cafe (with great unobstructed views) and several conference rooms. In fact, reading the castle's website it is clear that one of the goals of the restoration was to make it into a vibrant cultural center. Free tours are offered every Sunday and there are other events like the bagpipes for the holiday season, such as classical music concerts, an evening lecture series on astronomy, and even a new year's eve gala dinner. I don't mean to go on and on about this little castle, it's just that only rarely are cultural heritage destinations so appealing on this island of Sicily. While I love castles even when they are just isolated empty shells perched on craggy hilltops, someone envisioned that this particular one could be so much more, and somehow that vision has become reality for the town of Calatabiano.

P.S. others have been writing about zampognari too, read Jann's post here.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Sunrise



Clouds, patch of blue sky and first rays of morning sunlight over the Ionian Sea.
Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Date Night

raz11.jpg

On my recent flight back to Italy from the US, I got some good laughs watching Date Night starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell. I nearly woke up my sleeping son from all my silent jiggling and even let a few bursts of out loud laughter slip out. It was just the perfect blend of funny and not too heavy to help get me through the wee hours of the flight, which is probably why I liked it so much.

Our recent date night was of course nothing like the movie, but as we drove into 'the city' a few nights ago (that would be Catania) I couldn't help but get flashbacks of the movie, envisioning the suburban New Jersey couple driving into 'THE CITY' (that would be NYC), the seemingly innocent beginning to the night that would change their lives forever. Back in the real world of Catania, our evening was of course absolutely, perfectly, happily uneventful, just as expected. We simply rejoiced in the normalcy of a night out after dark as two adults, briskly walking through the maze of streets, arm in arm, bundled up in our winter coats, warming up while browsing in a random bookstore, and then back out to wander some more until finally deciding on our restaurant of choice.

All that is just a long segue into Razmataz, perfect in its cozy hippness for a relaxing meal on a cold wintry night. Most importantly it serves up some tasty and original food. The pizza was Roman thin and I opted for the tuma cheese /homemade eggplant tapanade smeared one and enjoyed every mouthwatering bite. Hubby prefers a thicker crust but that didn't stop him from gobbling down his tuma cheese/olive/anchoive/green onion smothered version. And there is a long list of more traditional pizzas too, not to mention all the non-pizza choices which may tempt us back for another one of our kind of date nights: simple. adult. fun.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Home Sweet Sicily

Although I always feel a little wistful after a trip home to the U.S., the glorious days that greeted us here back in Sicily have made the transition into so-called normal life a little less bittersweet. No matter my degree of homesickness, I find it hard to be anything other than positive, upbeat and smiley when basking in sunshine and surrounded by an expanse of shining deep blue sea. Wouldn't you agree?


Add a bunch of colorful wooden fishing boats to the picture...


...and a kilo of the tiny edible clams known as telline that were sauteed and served up as part of Sunday lunch,


and the 'I must admit there are some advantages to living in Sicily' side of me starts rearing its stubborn head up once again.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A few reasons why I love LA

Just back from another wonderful trip visiting my family in Los Angeles. It was all about spending quality time with family and friends, eating favorite ethnic foods, and of course shopping American style. But you can only shop and eat and just hang out so much! To keep things interesting were the many local excursions revisiting some of my favorite old haunts and discovering some new ones, too. The LA area is a huge metropolis and if you are willing to drive and not be intimidated by a little traffic (okay, a lot of traffic), the choices are endless and much fun is to be had....



What kid doesn't love climbing in and out of old trains?
Griffith Park's Travel Town Museum


'old school' fun
The Nutcraker at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in Downtown LA


The Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland


Some things taste better in the U.S.A. like these freshly picked berries
we sampled at our local farmer's market


Vista Hermosa Park: downtown LA's newest green space


The spectacular coastal views from the Getty Center
make it hard not to love this city