Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quite possibly the cutest camera bag ever!

Ok, can you tell that I've spent a lot of time online today? I really haven't, at least no more than usual, but I did get a lot of great stuff coming through my Google Reader today.  Another find was The Bad-Ass Bowler Camera Bag. I absolutely LOVE my Tamrac backpack, but sometimes it looks a bit too utilitarian and un-girly and something like this would be perfect!

Photos courtesy of

Best Espresso Drinks

 photo courtesy of

Today, as I was perusing the web, I came across a great article entitled "Three of the best Italian espresso drinks".  According to this article these must-try beverages are the Caffe Corretto - a combination of espresso and a shot of a spirit, most often grappa (the article classifies this drink as "the drink of choice for cold days and hardy men"); a Marocchino - a combination of espresso, frother milk, and cocoa powder (apparently this drink is more popular in Northern Italy, which is why I've never heard of it, but I will be asking for it soon!); and the great Caffe Latte - which is usually 25ml espresso and enough hot, but not frothy, milk to fill a 160ml glass.

This great article also goes over a bit of coffee history, how to make these wonderful beverages at home, and some Italian coffee lingo such as doppio (a double), ristretto (made with less water than usual), lungo (made with more water than usual), and so on. Definitely worth the read if you are a coffee junkie/snob like me!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Riserva Naturale di Vendicari

Lately the weather has been mediocre, at best; but on Saturday we had a bit of a reprieve from the clouds, wind, and rain and actually saw the sun for more than a fleeting moment.  Les and I took the opportunitity to enjoy the outdoors at the Vendicari Nature Reserve which is about two hours from home, near Noto.

The Vendicari Nature Reserve was created in 1984, but did not become operational until 1989. It consists of a narrow strip of marshy coastline covering 574ha and provides a rare, and now completely protected habitat for migratory species and a highly peculiar kind of sand-loving Mediterranean vegetation. The large stretch of swamp, a hostile environment in many ways because of high salinity levels, has evolved a very unusual ecosystem which continues to attract vast numbers of birds passing through the area on migration. (
Les and I wandered the reserve for a few hours, both of us with our cameras.  I got a few good shots, but mostly just enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere, walking the footpaths among the marshes or along the sea, listening to the waves.

An Old Tuna Factory (La Tonnara di Vendicari)

While we were walking along the coast I decided to practice a photo technique that I have been trying to get the hang of - using a longer exposure to smooth moving water, rather than using a faster shutter which freeze-frames the water.  Ideally, this would be done at dawn or dusk when there is less light, allowing for slower shutter speeds, but in mid-afternoon I had to get creative.  Here are a couple of my attempts.  I think I have the general idea.

Another attempt at smoothing the water a bit farther down the coast

Inside what remains of the Tonnara

As the sun fell lower in the sky we decided to call it a day.  We made our way back to the car and then drove around some of the small towns in the area around Vendicari.  For dinner we went into Noto, a gorgeous town that I have only been to during festivals.  It was nice to see it a little less crowded.  No pictures, though.  It was dark at that point so I left the camera in the car.  We had dinner at a little ristorante, it was good, but nothing special or out of the ordinary.  After dinner I grabbed a quick gelato and then we headed home.  Les had studying to do so we couldn't stay out too late.

On our way home we got stuck in traffic near Siracusa.  Stop and go for about 45 minutes.  And then we were forced to turn around.  The polizia were turning everyone around. we were forced to find an alternate route home.  None of the roads in Sicily are direct so what would have taken us around 2 hours had the road not been closed took us 4.  We ended up backtracking to Noto and then went through Modica and Ragusa. We didn't make it home until 2 in the morning, and that was earlier than we expected, given the detour.  Poor Les still had to do some homework.  I don't know what time he got to bed.  I was out when my head hit the pillow.  It was a good day, but much, much longer than we expected.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Staying Busy

I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks.  I've been busy, but not with travel or taking pictures, hence the sparse, or rather nonexistant, blog posts.  Hopefully soon I'll get out and take more pictures, was hoping to today actually, but I don't think that will work out.  The weather is nasty (where the heck is spring?!?!) and my hubbie has the car so I'm pretty much housebound.  I have plenty to do, though.  Housework never ends (ugh).

Over the past couple of weeks I've been busy crafting.  I signed up to be a Stampin' Up! demonstrator and held my first workshop which was a lot of fun.  I enjoy the excuse to get together with friends and do crafty stuff.  Here are a few of the things we made for the workshop:

Aren't they cute? If you want to see more of this kind of stuff visit my craft blog at, and if you want to buy Stampin' Up! products you can visit my business website at Ok, 'nuff "advertising", just wanted to share some of my crafty creations.

I've also taken a more lead role with the local photography club.  It is on the verge of fizzling out and I'd really hate to see that happen.  I've learned so much from belonging to the club and I would love to share what I've learned and keep on learning. We had a photo club meeting last week and there were only three of us there, and for one it was his last meeting with the club.

Such is life in the military community, people are always coming and going, and seeing friends go is rough, really rough.  In addition to my photo club friend another of my best friends here left last week and another friend leaves in about a week.  I knew this point in our time here would come but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Now that we will be staying in Sicily for a year longer than we originally expected knowing most of my friends will leave the island before me is tough to accept.  I have to keep making new friends, and putting myself out there, and that doesn't come easily to me.

That pretty much covers the high (and low) points of the past couple of weeks.  I need to get out of here, out of housing, for a is calling my name, my feet are itchy and I need to get moving.  Hopefully soon my camera and I will be able to take a day trip at the very least or else my cabin fever will drive me nutty (nuttier?  no comments on that from the peanut gallery!). Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Taormina and Goodbye

My parents' last day in Sicily. Even now, more than a week after they left I am still sad to think about it. Reliving their trip on my blog has been great, and helped me recall all of the wonderful memories that we made together. Their last day here, however, was tough for me.  I felt like I went thorugh the day in a fog, not wanting to acknowledge that they would soon be leaving.

That morning dad & I hopped on the motorcycle and went up to Mineo for breakfast.  After a very chilly ride up the hill I was ready for a warm beverage. I had a cappuccino and my dad had a cafe americano, his usual.  By the time we arrived at the bar there wern't many sweets left to choose from. I honestly don't remember what I had, but dad got a pastry that is covered with thin slices of apples and is filled with cream.  We had a good laugh when he took his first bite. It was a very flaky pastry and he wasn't expecting quite so many flakes. It was nice to be able to just sit and talk for awhile with dad. We don't get much one-on-one time but when we do it is always special and I treasure those moments.

After breakfast and our ride we finished getting ready, loaded up the car, and made the drive to Acireale so dad could return the motorcycle. After the paperwork for the bike was finished we still had several hours to kill before they were due at the airport. We decided to drive another half hour up the road to Taormina.  Mom had been wanting a Sicilia sweatshirt and Taormina is the one place that I knew we could find one. Taormina is a very touristy town, but beautiful, overlooking the Ionian Sea.  Before shopping lunch was a must. After a decent meal (not bad, but not superb either, certainly overpriced) we set out searching for mom's sweatshirt.  We quickly found a souvenier shop and the perfect sweatshirt.  Mom and dad also picked up a few other goodies - a t-shirt for me, a model Fiat 500 for Les, a t-shirt for my brother.

Our next stop was a sweet shop with all sorts of local specialties.

Several types of stuffed anchovies


Marzipan - Mandarin Orange & Apple

More Marzipan - Watermelon and Banana

After purchasing some sweets and other treats we had a little bit of time to just meander. We walked the length of the main part of Taormina to the square that overlooks the sea.  We snapped a few pictures, grabbed a cappuccino, and then it was time to go.

Mom & Dad, with the Ionian Sea in the background

A guitar and hat, just sitting the closed doorway of a church

The drive from Taormina to Catania was a quiet one, I know I was contemplating the immenent goodbyes and dreading them.  All too soon we arrived at the airport. We found a parking place and I helped my parents into the terminal. They got their boarding passes and then the inevitable goodbyes began before they got in line to go through security. I stayed and watched them go through the line, waving and blowing kisses every time I caught their eyes.  I held it together, for the most part, until they were out of sight, then ran to the car before the dam broke. Once my sobbing subsided I started the car and headed out of the airport. I wasn't far when my phone rang, it was my mom, just calling to say goodbye again.  We chatted for a moment, I struggled to hold my emotions under control. As we were getting off of the phone my voice cracked, I know she heard it but luckily she didn't say anything or I wouldn't have been able keep from sobbing.

Saying goodbye was so hard. It always is. It seemed even harder this time because I'm not sure when I'll see them again.  While they were here we found out that our time in Sicily will be extended for an additional year, putting us here until around November of 2010. I hope my parents come back again, or that at least my mom comes, and I hope to make another trip back to the states, but nothing has been planned yet.  Without another visit to look forward to saying goodbye was exceptionally difficult. Thank God for telephones, email, and skype...

Friday, April 03, 2009

Nearing the End

My parents last two full days in Sicily were busy, but I didn't take a single picture. On Monday, March 23 Mom and I used the day to take care of some business - shopping at the local supermercatos for Italian goodies to ship back, and then shipping those goodies along with ceramics and other treasures they had accumulated during their trip. Dad was off again on the motorcycle and Les went back to work. That evening we made enchiladas at home for dinner and my friend Cynthia came over with her adorable daughter. They stayed for dinner and we had a wonderful time. Cynthia's daughter is so cute and was our entertainment for the evening.

The next day I was on my own. Mom and dad took off together on the motorcycle and headed in the general direction of Siracusa with the intent of visiting motorcycle shops. They had a good, but cold day. That evening we enjoyed a great dinner at Family Restaurant, not far from our home.  Cynthia and her family joined us for dinner and we again enjoyed the antics of her daughter. My parents adored her, especially my dad!

The only day left to recap of their trip is the day they left. I will save that post for tomorrow.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Piazza Amerina & Morgantina

We had another late start to the day on Sunday, March 22. Dad took off again on his own while Mom, Les & I headed in the general direction of Caltanissetta.  Having never been there before we realized a bit late in the game that we probably were taking the long way. We stopped to get gas in Piazza Amerina, and I realized as a cold gust of wind entered the open car door that I had forgotten my coat!  We were already more than an hour away from home and I really didn't want to go back, nor did I want to try and find a new coat to buy, during riposo on a Sunday. I decided to *try* and tough it out. I found out a few minutes later that Les forgot his coat too. Great, just great.

Rather than continuing on to Caltanissetta we decided to go into the centro of Piazza Amerina and find a cappuccino to warm up. After enjoying our beverages we realized that it was lunch time and regardless of what our next step of the was we should have a bite to eat before we hit the road again. We ened up at a tiny little restaurant called Trattoria del goloso.

The food we were served was simple but delicious.  My mom had a hearty bowl of minestrone soup, Les had a steak, and I had a wonderful plate of spaghetti with tomatoes, capers, and olives, a dish that I have recreated twice at home since then.

After lunch we took a quick walk around the centro of Piazza Amerina. We would have stayed longer but the wind was so cold!

Piazza Amerina Door

we hit the road, still unsure as to our destination. As we were about to get back on the main road we saw a sign for Morgantina, one of the places we wanted to visit that day. It turned out to be much closer than we thought. Here is what my guidebook has to say about Morgantina:
In a superb setting, in the middle of a wide flat valley far from any towns, are the ruins of a settlement which was founded in Hellenistc times (4th-3rd century BC) under the dominion of Siracusa, and which was destroyed fairly early on by the Romans. The excavations have revealed the interested design of the agora, the public square built on two levels. The upper part contains the remains of the bouleuterion (council hall) and of the ginnasio romano (Roman gymnasium). The area flanked by a long, columed portico was the site of the macellum (market), and the quartiere residenziale (residential quarter) was on the hill. In the lower part of the agora were the theater (4th century BC), a sanctuary dedicated to the gods of the underworld, and some kilns for making pottery. (Authentic Sicily, Touring Club of Italy)
Using the map in my guidebook I will try to give rough explanations of where my pictures were taken.  It was so cold up there, but ruins fascinate me so I toughed it out. Mom, of course was smart enough to bring her coat so she was fine.  Les looked around for a short while and then gave up and decided to wait for us in the car, out of the bone-chilling wind.

Les & Mom, walking the very old road up towards western residential district

The Western Residential District

Wine Press in the Residential District

A tiny bit of mosaic that remains in the Residential District

A once ornate mosaic floor in the Residential District

Detail shot of the mosic in the previous picture

More mosaics in the Residential District

And another...

Near the Market

Also near the Market

In my guidebook this is simply labled the "Steps"

Altar for Demeter in the Sanctuary

A plaque near the altars said:
House-like sanctuaries dedicated to Demeter and Persephone were located in most neighborhoods of Morgantina. The Central Sanctuary in the agora is the most formal of these: the courtyard was flanked by two porticoes, and a small naos or temple is located in the southwest corner. In the courtyard are two altars: one, a subterranean bothros, for Persephone; the other above-ground, cylindrical and stuccoed, for Demeter. The Persephone altar was filled with hundreds of small votive cupsa and thousands of lamps, which spilled over into the adjacent courtyard. This is the only sanctuary to have continued in use during the Roman period; among the later finds are eight inscribed lead tablets (defixiones) calling upon the gods of the underwold to received one Venusta, the slave of Rufus.

 House of the Doric Capital

Another shot of the House of the Doric Capital

Mosaic inside the House of the Doric Capital

Another mosaic inside the House of the Doric Capital

House of Ganymede

Mom and I covered the high points of the ruins at Morgantina, but because I was freezing we left a bit earlier that I would have liked.  And it was probably a good thing because as we drove away from the park it started raining.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful. We took the long way home, though it wasn't exactly intended, but because of the weather we didn't make any other stops. Once home we warmed up and then headed up the hill to Mineo for dinner. We wanted to try Shalimar's a restaurant that we have heard good things about (also happens to be the same location as a coffee bar we love) but they were having a child's birthday party there and it was really loud so we decided to go elsewhere for our meal.  We ended up at Casa Mia.  Les & I hadn't eaten there in quite a while and the food, while good before, was better than I remembered.  We need to back again soon. And that concludes my recap of another day with my parents in Sicily.