Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Adding to my list...

I have a list that I am compiling in my mind of places that I want to see during this lifetime. Last night as I was reading through BusinessWeek Magazine I stumbled on another destination to add to the list: Salina, one of Italy's Aeolian Islands. The article is entitled If It Were Easy to Get to...

According to the article Salina is relatively unspoiled because it isn't the easiest place to get to. Luckily for me, living in Sicily, it would be pretty easy. Just a short 90 minute hydrofoil ride from Milazzo, near Messina.

Just one more place to see before I leave the question is when to make this happen? I can't believe we've been here for nearly a year already. We'll be moving before I know it. Just a reminder to make the most of my time here and see as much of Europe as possible.

Now playing: Colbie Caillat - Bubbly
via FoxyTunes

Monday, September 24, 2007

Is Fall Actually Here?

The sound of driving rain, thunder and lightening woke me up around 3:30AM this morning. Someone who has lived in Sicily for several years told me a few weeks ago that Fall isn't here until we get our first big storm of the season. If he is right then Fall is here! I was so excited that I had a hard time falling asleep again. I laid in bed listening to the sound of the rain and seeing the flashes of lightening through my closed eyelids and counting until I heard the rumble of thunder.

A side note on Italian generosity: Yesterday afternoon Les and I stopped at a gas station bar on our way to run errands. We were in desperate need of coffee. We had been at each others' throats all morning and it wasn't until around 2:00PM that we discovered our crankiness was directly related to the lack of caffeine coursing through our veins. We ordered cafe macchiatos and paid and were soon sipping beautiful relief. As we drank our coffee the barista attempted to carry on conversation with us. I was shown that I still have a long way to go in learning the Italian language. I could pick out a couple of words but not enough to really understand what he was talking about. He was good natured and we smiled and laughed a bit, I think he appreciated that we tried.

As we were getting ready to leave we left a tip on the bar and said "ciao" to the barista. He said "aspeta" wait! He had prepared another coffee drink for us. It consisted of a bit of espresso covered with "crema di latte" sort of like a sweet milk slushy, topped with a bit of chocolate syrup and cinnamon. It was delicious! We drank them down and asked how much they cost and were told they were on the house. I was blown away by the simple and sincere generosity.

I have experienced this several times since I have lived in Sicily. From a plate of fresh roasted chestnuts given to us at a restaurant during a festival season, an extra bunch of arugula and a couple extra vegetables or pieces of fruit thrown into the bag at the outdoor market, to a "regala" gift of a poinsettia plant at Christmas from our favorite restaurant, Italian and Sicilian generosity never ceases to warm my heart.

Now playing: Arthur Fiedler; Boston Pops Orchestra - An American In Paris
via FoxyTunes

Pan's Labyrinth

Last night Les and I watched Pan's Labyrinth. If you like foreign films and don't mind reading subtitles I highly recommend it! The story captivates the imagination, the acting was exceptional, and the cinematography was beautiful. It started a bit slow but is definitely worth sticking with to the end. Enjoy! Let me know if you see it (or already have) and what you think.

Now playing: Andrea Bocelli - Ponchielli: La Gioconda - Cielo E Mar!
via FoxyTunes

Girls Day Out - Taormina & Gambino Winery

Yesterday I took off with a few girlfriends for a tour of Taormina and wine tasting at the Gambino Winery. All four of us had visited Taormina on previous occasions and were familiar with the sights so we decided to ditch the tour group and attempted to blend with the local culture. We made our way to a bar and ordered breakfast - for me it was a cappuccino and cornetto con crema (a cream filled criossant). We sat at the cafe for a couple of hours chatting and people-watching.

Alice, Jen, & Candice at the cafe

Once we finished breakfast we decided to wander in and out Taormina's many shops. Taormina is a very beautiful tourist town. In my opinion it is the La Jolla of Sicily.

Sweet Treats - Marzipan Fruits in a Store Window

As we neared the city gate we noticed that the Chiesa Santa Caterina was open and decided to peek inside. This was one of the most unique paintings that I've seen in an Italian church.

Inside Chiesa Santa Caterina

At noon we piled back into our tour bus and headed up into the foothills of Mt. Etna to the Gambino Winery. It was about an hour drive up tight, curvy mountain road to the winery. As we got off the bus we heard honking and cheers as a Fiat 500 (cinquecento) club passed. They just kept coming and coming. I wish I knew how many there were. They looked like they were having so much fun!

Fiat 500 (cinquecento) Parade

The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the hill below the winery - the road to the winery was too small for the bus. We were given the option to walk up - about a 10 minute walk, or wait for vans to pick us up. We were also given a third option of starting to walk and the vans would pick us up on the their way up the hill. We decided to set out on foot. The road was steep and much longer than we thought. I walked about 2/3rds of the way before I finally caught an empty seat in the van. I definitely worked for my lunch!

The sign a the bottom of the hill

At the top of the hill we were surrounded by beautiful vineyards weighed down with grapes. They harvest at the end of October due to the colder weather and elevation (about 800 meters). I was able to take a few pictures before we crowded into the tasting room for lunch and of course wine.

Nerello Mascalese Grapes

View from the terrace, Geraniums with the vineyards in the background

Lunch was delicious! It was advertised as a "light lunch" but it was more of a feast! We dined on antipasti of sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, eggplant, olives, marinated mushrooms, bread, cheese, and meats. We also got to taste five different wines. I purchased three bottles - the Tifeo Bianco, a fruity but crisp, dry white wine; the Cantari Rosso, a delicious full-bodied red wine made from Nero D'Avola grapes which are indigenous to Sicily, similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon in flavor; and the Alicante Rosso, a very robust, delicious red wine.

After lunch and we were given a tour of the winery and were able to purchase wine. Once we finished we had a bit of time to wander the grounds so I snapped a few more pictures.

View from the winery

A very unique tree

Click on the picture to enlarge it. I didn't even notice when I took the photo that the leaves had spiderwebs on them. I love finding those types of surprises when I enlarge pictures.

With full tummies and sleepy with wine we loaded back onto the bus for the ride home. I had a great time!

Sunset on the SS417

One the way home I caught this sunset through the window of the car. A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

Now playing: Andrea Bocelli - Giordano: Andrea Chénier - Come Un Bel Dì Di Maggio
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happy Birthday to Meeeee!!

The last year of my 20's has begun. Yesterday was a bit bittersweet for me. Among happiness for a day of partying dedicated me I also had a small meltdown about growing up. I DON'T WANT TO! All around me it seems like my friends, some younger, some older, have reached adulthood; and by this I mean parenthood. Nearly all of my married friends are trying for kids, pregnant, or have a kid (and some of those are pregnant with their second child). I don't feel nearly old enough to be a parent, is that bad? I just don't want to grow up. It hit me yesterday that if I want to have kids I need to start seriously thinking about it. This is the right time, I guess....or at least that is what I witness around me. I'm just not sure I'm ready for all of that...and not sure I ever will be. I love kids but they turn lives upside down. Most of those who have kids wouldn't trade it for the world, but for some reason is scares the crap out of me.

But enough on that deep hubbie put together a great party for me last night. Along with a bunch of our friends we went to a Chinese food restaurant in Catania. It was really good! Definitely what I wanted. Thank you to all my friends for coming to my party even though most of you had to work today!! I know we were out late. And thank you for the generous gifts! I'm truly blessed to have made such good friends in the year that I've been here. Living overseas has been a lot easier thanks to you.

Now playing: Pink Martini - Aspettami
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pumpkin Tails - A new bed?

Pumpkin has decided, at least for today, that the recycle bin in my office is the comfiest, coziest place in the world.

Where I found him

Woke up to have his picture taken

Getting comfy again

His cuteness is often the highlight of my day...easily amused? yes! and grateful for it. Life is easier when you take time to enjoy the little things.
Now playing: Augustana - Mayfield
via FoxyTunes

Monday, September 17, 2007

A very nice weekend

Les had the day off on Friday so we had a nice, long weekend. Thursday night after work Les had a rehearsal with his band. He and a couple other military members started a rock band and are hoping to play at events on base. He seems to really be enjoying it and has determined that he needs more toys - a better bass amp and another bass guitar. I told him Christmas and his birthday are coming.

While they were rehearsing I took the opportunity to see a movie at the base theater. I saw License to Wed with Mandy Moore, Robin Williams and John Krasinski. Very cute movie, and with Robin Williams you are guaranteed to laugh.

Friday was laid-back but we did get out that evening and did a bit of shopping in Misterbianco (Les wanted to check out the new PC Superstore) and at Etnapolis. I bought a very cute pair of Converse ballet flats. On our way home we stopped at the Family Ristorante - one of the best places to eat close to home. I tried out their house pasta which was a tagliatelle with bolognese sauce (tomato and meat sauce) with cream, prosciutto, peas, and mushrooms. It was really good! Definitely worth a repeat.

Saturday was the best part of the weekend. We spent the day at Fontane Bianche beach with a bunch of Les' coworkers and their families. Tourist season has passed so the beach was quiet but the weather was warm and perfect for laying on the beach and playing in the water. I didn't take my camera, so no pictures this time, but I am now motivated to get a waterproof camera that I can take to the beach. It was quite beautiful and I'd like to have a few pictures to remember the day by.

Sunday was pretty low-key. We went to church on base. Les plays bass and guitar with the praise band in the chapel a couple of times each month. Following church we grabbed a quick lunch and then Les was off to rehearse with his rock band again. I did a bit of grocery shopping and came home. We invited our friends Sheena & Tony over for dinner and had a very yummy Thai green curry, played cards and were entertained by their daughter, Carlee, whom I absolutely adore.

Nothing extraordinary about my weekend, but it was really good to get out and play, spend time with friends, and relax.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Male di Mare

This morning (or rather the middle of the night) I pulled myself out of bed at 2:10AM. Why? My dear husband convinced me to go deep-sea fishing with him. We left the house about 3:15AM and arrived on base for our 4:00AM pickup. From there we took about an hour and a half drive south to Marzamemi, where we caught our boat.

As we headed out of the harbor light was just beginning to appear over the horizon. I tried to capture it on my camera but between the darkness and rolling waves I didn't get much. As we headed out of the harbor and got a bit more light I was able to catch this one...I think I deleted 20+ other failed attempts...

Beginning of a sunrise over the Ionian Sea - notice the sliver of a moon and star

As it got brighter I was able to pick out where the sun would pop up

The sun making its first appearance of the day

Sun is up a bit higher and behind the clouds

Les gets started with his fishing

One by one our tour guide got us set up with fishing rods. I held on to mine for awhile until it was suggested that I bring it back in and change bait. By this point I wasn't feeling so well - hence the title of this post "male di mare". I tried mind over matter and deep breathing to overcome my annoying motion sickness and it worked for a little while, but eventually got the better of me. I decided to forget fishing for awhile and stumbled my way to the front of the boat where there was room to sit and lay down. I felt better for a few minutes and then a lot worse and ended up hanging over the railing of the boat...yeah, not fun. After that I pretty much crashed out for a couple of hours and dozed as the sun came up.

Once I finally felt okay to sit up I tried to make the best of our "adventure" and appreciate the fact that I was basking in the sun in the Ionian Sea.

This picture hardly does the sparkle in the water justice, but it was one of the things I marveled at for awhile.

I couldn't believe the color of the water, so gorgeous!

After several more hours we started to make our way back into the harbor. Since the fish didn't bite much the boat driver decided to take us near the fish farms to see if we'd have better luck there.
A fish farm

Another fish farm

The beautiful sky

My husband, exhausted after a grueling morning of fishing

All in all it was a good day, minus the sick bit. Once I got over that I really did enjoy myself. I didn't do anymore fishing, but Les brought home three fish and made a great dinner!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Life near an active volcano...

Last night, around 8PM my friend Sheena called and told me that Mt. Etna was erupting and she could see it from her driveway. She lives just a couple of blocks away from me so Les & I ran out the door and down the street. As we got to the end of the street we were amazed by the lava fountain coming out of the top of the mountain.

We watched for a few minutes from Sheena's house and then decided that we needed to get away from the street lights and a bit closer. We all jumped into Sheena's car, rushed over to our house to pick up my camera and tripod, and we headed toward the volcano.

We found a secluded country road and pulled off in a dirt driveway. Here is what we saw...

I can't even begin to describe how awe-inspiring this was. I could have stared at the mountain for hours. To make the sight even more spectacular there was lightning in the background of the volcano. That is why the sky is a bit brighter in the last photo - lightning flashed while the camera shutter was open.

What a phenomenal way to spend an evening....I was so wired and excited that I had a hard time getting to sleep last night.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Butterflies of Excitement

I have so much to look forward to right now. I have to say life is good. I finished my fourth MBA class yesterday - "Strategic Implementation & Alignment" which focused on project management. My last assignment was to write a proposal for a hypothetical company and design a solution for their problems. I think I ended up with 34 pages including the charts. I can't even begin to express the weight that was lifted when I turned it in. I AM FREE!! for a few months anyway. I have so many things planned that I decided to put off my next class until after Thanksgiving.

This month alone has so many things to look forward to. First of all, September ROCKS because it is my birthday month. I have all sorts of fun day excursions planned, from deep sea fishing, to wine tasting, to hiking on the Mt. Etna. And then, even more exciting, my mom arrives the end of this month! She will be here in Sicily for a few days and then she and I are off to meet up with my aunties, grandmother, and a cousin in Rome. We'll spend a few days in Rome and then we'll be exploring Florence and Tuscany. I can't wait!

In November Les & I are planning on going to Paris for our anniversary. We will stay a few days in a hotel and then a week with my best friend from childhood who lives in Paris. I haven't seen her for at least 8 years so I am very excited. Once we return from Paris we dive head first into the Christmas season, which is my favorite time of year. I'm already thinking about Christmas music even though I know it is much too early to start listening to it.

The next few months will be amazing!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Concerto del Duo Nuance

A few months ago Les started playing guitar and bass in the praise band at the chapel on base. The base employs two Italian professional musicians to play with the praise band. Eleonora Trobia, the pianist, and I were talking one day and she mentioned that she plays in a group called Duo Nuance with guitarist Sergio Giuffrida. I asked her when their next performance was and I was told 9:00P in Scoglitti on August 31.

So, last night Les & I did our best to use Google Maps and Eleonora's directions to find our way there. Just a few wrong turns and about 2 hours later we reached Scoglitti, a small beach town in the Ragusa province. It is not far from where we live, but mostly just two-lane, curvy roads to get there.

Once we arrived we decided to find an ATM and some dinner. Les was adamant that he would like something other than Italian food. We happened on a restaurant whose sign said "specialita couscous" and decided to give it a try. It was about 8:00P, just the start of dinnertime in Italy, and we were the first customers of the evening. I realized that we were in for a pricey meal when they didn't have a menu, you go up to the fish display and pick out which fresh fish you'd like. We decided on a fillet of grilled Swordfish each, some prawns, and a caprese salad for antipasti. I opted out of wine for the evening because they had the most expensive wine list I've seen in Italy thus far...and no vino della casa. 50Euro later we were full and anxious to be on our way. It was a few minutes after 9:00P and we were running late for the concert...or so we thought.

The concert was held at Largo Camarina, a parking lot next to the beach. We arrived as they were doing sound checks and tuning. We took a seat and mentioned that it was a good thing we decided to come. There were only a couple of other people there. We waited and waited...more people arrived..waited more...and finally about 10:15P the concert started. By then almost all of the seats were full! Old people, young people, families with small kids...I never ceased to be amazed at how late Italians stay up! I guess it has something to do with sleeping all afternoon for riposo.

Anyhow, the concert was very enjoyable. A mix of classical and South American music. Sergio Giuffrida has a few sound clips on his website if you want to get an idea of what we listened to.

Once the concert ended we were exhausted..and still had about 2 hours drive to get home. We debated trying to find a hotel room and just stay the night but opted for an espresso and a gelato and sleeping in our own bed. We took a different route home, through Gela, and made it in a mere hour and a half.

We finally fell into bed at about 1:30A. I think I was out the moment my head hit the pillow. I remember, not too long ago, when staying up past midnight was the most natural thing in the world. No so anymore. We were exhausted. I think that means we are getting old. All things considered it was a great evening and a fun way to get a bit further into Sicilia's culture.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Sicily's "lovely" weather. Right next to the water at 11:15P it was still 80F and humid...