(Internet has been spotty, so we are behind in our posts. Better late than never 🙂
When we were planning where my parents should meet us on this crazy journey, we decided on Italy and were excited to meet on the island of Sicily where none of us had ever been. We had been anticipating seeing them for a long time and were so excited to see them at the airport!!
The first thing we noticed when we left the airport was the mountainous terrain and the sunny Mediterranean weather. We really didn’t know what to expect from Sicily. Would everyone look like extras from the Godfather? Just kidding. We were, however, looking forward to eating Sicilian food.
We stayed a few nights in Palermo figuring my parents would be jet lagged and not wanting to move around too much. Palermo is an old chaotic city and the traffic and driving reminded us of Asia. It was a little bit of a shock especially since we came from car free Venice, but you get used to it pretty quickly. After being in the passenger seat of some crazy driving in Asia you learn to just let go and go with it.
Palermo is a big city, but we stayed in a cute place – BB22 – in the old quarter. It was right in the thick of it all, but on a pedestrian street, so it wasn’t too loud or noisy. There were stands set up with purses, music, shoes and clothes. Restaurants were nearby, as was the market street called Borgo Vecchio. There we were able to hit the butcher, the baker, the fresh fruit stand and small store with meats, cheeses, and your few basics. It was fun to show mom and dad how we had been living for so many months. Local markets are my favorite!
We spent time walking around the city – the port, the streets, the cathedral. We stopped at cafes, bought local wine from a cute Sicilian shop and soaked up being in Sicily.
We of course needed to try to local favorites, so my dad found cannoli at this great stand on the way to the cathedral. I didn’t order one, but one was handed to me and I have to say, it was the best cannoli I had ever had!!!!
But our highlight in the area was a trip down to Terrasini, a small fishing village outside Palermo. Such a beautiful coastline.
There we were treated to a traditional Sicilian lunch by our friend Tina’s aunt Lina. I had heard that Italian food gets better the further south you go, and we were not disappointed! How lucky we were to be invited into a locals home and treated to such a feast! She cooked all the local dishes to give us a flair for the Sicilian cuisine. We had olives, stuffed sundried tomatos, arrancini, fried sardines, sicilian pizza, pasta al forno and more.
The food kept coming! She spent all day cooking for us and we are so thankful. Plus it was so nice to sit with Lina and her son, Joseph, and hear about life in Sicily. We also got a chance to meet her daughter and grand daughter. Italian families are close and have a strong bond which was evident in this family where everyone lives walking distance to each other. Her brother in law even stopped in while we were there just to bring her some fresh flowers. It was a highlight of our time so far in Sicily. My mom is hoping we can bring the traditional Sunday dinner home with us to America.
Our next excursion was leaving Palermo and driving down towards the town of Agrigento to see the Greek ruins at the Valley of the Temples. This was no small task. We had to fit 7 of us in a mini van with all of our luggage. Needless to say, we had suitcases under our feet, bags shoved beside us and in between us, but we made it.
It was refreshing to leave the big city (which was quite a challenge with all the one way streets) and see the beautiful country side of Sicily. The land is beautiful – from the big rocks and cliffs, to the sea, to the countryside.
The place where we were staying, Mandranova, put us amid olive groves with a view of the sea. It was an agritourismo, which is basically an Italian farm or ranch that also has lodging. What an incredible find. The farm has been in the family for generations and it was fantastic!! It had been a vineyard for years, but was transferred to olive orchards about 20 years ago and has now grown to 10,000 olive trees.
The owners, Silvia and Giovanni, have made this a place to remember. Some of the apartments were in a former small train station on the property. The food was amazing with Silvia and their son in the kitchen. We had an amazing pasta the first night – simple with roasted vegetables and fried zucchini crisps on top. We also had a fresh salad of oranges and fennel one night with marinated lamb that was incredible.
We were treated to a private tour of the olive oil facilities by Giovanni while we were there as well. This really explained the ins and outs of olive oil production, which was very interesting.
He made it very entertaining for the girls as well. Did you know that the terms “first press” and “cold pressed” are just marketing terms that don’t mean anything? Supposedly Mandranova olive oil is one of the best in the world!! And they have the awards to prove it. Sicily is know for great, flavorful olive oils. Claire loved pouring it on everything. Would highly recommend checking this place out to anyone going to Sicily.
We were in the area to see the ancient Greek temples. Sicily has some of the best preserved Greek ruins outside of Greece. What a site to behold. Just seeing them was amazing, but to walk around a place with such historical significance was remarkable. Some of temples were destroyed because people needed the stone to build the nearby port or for building a castle. Don’t you just love people? Our guide, Nicoletta, was perfect and was able to tailor the tour towards the girls. Claire is in 6th grade and the history is focused on ancient civilizations, so this was perfect for her. Plus, she loves Greek mythology, so she was able to really talk with Nicoletta and understand all about the gods and goddesses. She even made a video while she was there and Lauren created a great slide show of all of the temples.
Although we were sad to leave Mandranova, we packed up the minivan once again and drove to the beautiful resort town of Taormina. This is a town high up on the cliffs overlooking the Ionian Sea. It’s amazing how they were able to build these towns clinging to cliff sides. The main town was really just one long street, Corso Umberto, with smaller alleys branching off. We walked this many times while we were there and were amazed by all the small shops and restaurants that lined this town. We stayed at a great hotel, Villa Belvedere, overlooking the sea with a view of Mount Etna – the largest active volcano in Europe.
The main thing to see in the town is the ancient Greek theatre built in the third century BC. It reminded Dave a little bit of the Greek Theatre in Berkeley but with better scenery. It really is amazing that these historical places are still here for us all to see after so many years. The theatre has an incredible view of the volcano and on the backside you can see mainland Italy. The girls enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies of the theatre while we were there. They also enjoyed the granita that they had on the way out – a sweet treat like shaved ice.
Our time in Sicily came to an end. We are on our way to Naples.
Restaurants we tried in Taormina – Zuccarro and Terrazzo Angelo