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Catania views

Catania was a lively place to visit with lots of history, culture, food and awkward footpaths. This post is mostly photos.

The fish market had fabulous fruit and vegetables. We enjoyed the blood oranges, and bought walnuts from the grower.

The lava elephant is very cute. I was trying to work out who the bloke with the urn was in the sculpture. “He doesn’t have his hand on his dick so it can’t be Zeus” said Jim, displaying good classical knowledge.

So many diverse and beautiful faces in the decorations

There is a legend behind these heads, which are sold all over. They are known as Moor’s Heads, or Testa do Moro. The legend relates to a couple who have sex, a Sicilian woman and North African man. Depending which version of the story you believe they were both beheaded by a jealous husband, or, in a more woman-empowered version, she killed him when she found out he was married. The heads were used as plant pots on the balcony, and basil flourished in them.

I had an espresso and a ‘carbone’ or black croissant on my way back from the market. It was light and sweet. Made with actual carbon apparently.

Grilled artichokes at the fish market. I didn’t try one.

Catania is known as the black city because so much is built from lava, like the roads.

Apparently it is legal to sell hemp flowers yet not to smoke or eat them. Okkkk

Beautiful gateway

The Bernini Park is lovely, yet could be improved with the addition of toilets.

The airport (where I’m writing these last blogs) could be more efficiently organised. Over three hours into our 36 hour trip home door to door and we are just boarding. Zen times now.

Thank you readers!

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Taormina

Building your village on the top of a very steep hill that plunges into the sea is a brave thing to do, attempted by the fit, and/or those avoiding persecution. The view from the top is glorious. The view from the bottom, at Giardini Naxos, was beautiful too.

We stopped for a stroll along the waterfront, punctuated by coffee and a croissant.

Further along is Isola Bella, a tiny island with a mostly-accessible sand bar. There were a lot of steps down, which I took, although did not go across to the island.

The beach was rocks, not sand.

Up the top of the hill we visited a the Teatro Antico, yet were too early for the Jethro Tull concert. I enjoyed imagining them there though. It would be astonishing.

This theatre was a special place for Jim’s parents, so we took time to admire it and absorb the atmosphere. There were lots of fabulous vistas with a gently steaming Mt Etna in the background.

This Etna view would not have been visible when the theatre was intact. The columns that remain would once have been part of a beautiful colonnade. Workers were setting up for something, when they were not shouting at children climbing on places where they shouldn’t.

We strolled through upmarket Taormina and had lunch with a view of passers-by.

I had an Aperol Spritz and felt sophisticated.

While the Staff Orgy Organiser T-shirt was amusing and partially applicable I decided not to buy one.

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Siracusa and Ortega

It’s wonderful to see thousand+ year old theatres being set up for a performance. In the archeological park there is a Greek theatre and a Roman theatre. The Greek one has allegedly not been altered by other cultures although modern Italia was making an effort when I was there.

The map of the park was not very helpful.

We wondered how the water influenced acoustics and where the actors would stand–in the water or behind? There was an interesting cannon-like thing too.

At the back of the tiers of stairs are a fountain, some caverns and some grooves indicating lots of historic carts taking materials on site.

Pretty flowers and acceleration of modern day erosion.

The Roman theatre was much more worn out, and not a candidate for a modern performance.

Jim posed like a younger Billy Connelly

More beautiful wildflowers abound

Ortega is an island, although the bridge over is only about 20 metres long.

We walked around and mostly admired more modern things, churches only 500 years old. The cathedral has incorporated ancient Doric columns into its structure.

I love these wrought iron light fittings that abound in Sicily

We had coffee and cake in a beautiful square. Our change was €10 more than it should have been and they were astonished when we gave it back. It was good publicity for Australians.

Lots of relics of important people

The legend of Diana is depicted in this sculpture and fountain. The plant is papyrus and the water, from underground, is fresh, despite being so close to the coast. The blue Mediterranean was beautiful.

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Sicily is renowned for its food and for its contribution to Italian cuisine. We did a cooking class to learn from a native Sicilian, Deborah.

All the ingredients were ready for us.

Deborah even supplied aprons for us.

The food we cooked was simple, traditional and using excellent ingredients.

Pasta alla Norma is a dish that resembles Mt Etna. The heap of pasta is the mountain, the red tomato sauce is the lava, the eggplant with black skin the ash and the grated salted ricotta the snow on top.

The tomato sauce was made from sweet, thin-skinned tomatoes. Picalilli and another, local variety. They were chopped and placed in a mixing machine that heated them to 100°. They cooked slowly for an hour or so while we got on with the rest. Eggplants were cut lengthwise into 8mm thick slices, then placed into a bowl of salted water for half an hour to draw out the bitterness.

They were then dried and deep fried in sunflower oil. No temperature given; use the sizzle test instead.

The pepperoni alla Siciliana was one of my favourites. A big handful of basil and a quarter as much of mint were finely chopped and mixed with a crushed half clove of garlic, fine dry breadcrumbs (half the mix in proportion) and a tablespoon of chopped toasted almonds were scattered over batons of red capsicum in a baking dish then roasted. Half way through they were stirred up and some apple vinegar splashed over (very good white wine vinegar is ok too). Then they were cooked through till soft, moist and crunchy. So yum!

For the meatballs a soft bread roll was soaked in milk and crumbled, then mixed through the mince with an egg. Add grated lemon rind, salt, pepper, ginger powder, nutmeg (half tap of each) and finely chopped parsley. They were mixed, rolled into walnut-sized balls and coated with flour. After the eggplant had been deep fried, the meatballs were browned in the remaining oil that reached halfway up their sides. They were not left to cook through though. A mix of lemon juice, white wine and cornflour was made up, another pan was coated lightly with olive oil and the drained meatballs were put in with the lemon/wine mix to cook, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Jim and I were sat at a lovely table and given antipasto and glorious ruby-red wine.

The pasta alla Norma was served and it was delicious. Each ingredient was perfect and matched the rest.

I’d eaten half before remembering to photograph it.

Then the second course came out; the pepperoni, meatballs and a bonus parmigiana that we’d assembled from leftover sauce, eggplant, sliced hard boiled eggs and grated Parmesan cheese.

To finish off we were served a tiny palate cleanser (cold, yet not frozen) sorbet of orange juice and mint, set with cornflour. We rolled back to our accommodation replete and happy.

Deborah’s house was fabulous. She takes guests too, and I’d have liked to stay there.

I deliberately wore loose clothes for this activity.

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The top of Mt Etna, with four craters, is a bleak and uncomfortable landscape. Dig 20 centimetres under the snow-patched surface and the rocks are warm. Steaming, even. Other than the humans trudging around the cinders and dust, following their tour guides, the only sign of life I saw was a brightly striped bee. It was a long way from the spring flowers down the mountain. I circumnavigated the top of one of the craters at about 10,000 feet, walking carefully on the uneven surface. A steady plume of steam came from a crater higher up. Finding a Crack of Doom would be easy to see and hard to access.

We went with a lovely tour guide, Johanne, who had once played water polo for Canada at the Olympic Games. She drove us to the cable car and accompanied us up on the cable car then on the massive four-wheel drive bus.

Part way down we stopped to visit a lava tube. I get unreasonably excited about lava tubes. My first one was in Western Victoria, Australia, the next was in Mt Lassen in California and this one my third. Johanne supplied a hard hat and torch.

The hat did not fit very well!

Behind me is a deep drop that some speleologists we’re preparing to go into. Rather them than me.

The cave has magma stalactites, which are very cool to see. Unlike the crystal variety of stalactite, these ones will not grow.

I was pleased to reach the lower slopes of the mountain with tall trees, greenery and birdsong. I prefer ancient landscapes to those recently erupted. While the vulcanology and geology of Etna was interesting, I feel more of a connection to ancient places.

We finished up with tasting local products in a place where the wall was the edge of a lava flow. I loved the chestnut honey, and avoided the 70° proof Etna Fire.

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If it is an ancient structure, built with care and lined up with the sun, is it a temple? Maybe it is a  site for astronomy.  If there are figurines that look like women, are they goddesses, and for fertility? Maybe they were the artist’s ideal of sexy beauty.

We visited two ancient temples, one on Gozo and one on Malta. The  Gozo one we were very rushed for, as it was part of a tour. We were allowed longer in the shops than on the fascinating archeological site, unfortunately.

368C5A60-1247-4989-AA79-2AEDA612950F.jpegThe Gozo megalithic temple we visited, Ggantija (meaning large) was special and beautiful, overlooking the coast. For some reason the figurines were mostly headless, with a strategic hole in the neck where a detachable head could be fitted.

CE45B64A-1E73-4412-AE90-5D4A2DF6917B2D18738D-0AA8-4457-81B9-DD8200D78B086349C733-DBA2-4858-BA7C-159A4217932398E89C3F-8D28-49DA-8684-960F774D744BBodiless heads were also found on the site.

AC2B522C-B9E0-4209-B5E2-70F45C60B340D0A7F6F3-9EFC-4A46-9649-EF820CFB43229CF548F6-AFEE-4AB4-B271-9AE683E01138The limestone is weathering quite badly after 5,800 years, yet the spaces retain a sense of being highly significant. The wildflowers were lush and colourful and there were lots of wild herbs.

On Malta we visited Hagar Qim, on a local bus so we could take as long as we liked. More limestone megaliths by the sea, and the same pattern of a passage leading to paired oval rooms. It really felt like a women’s space, confirmed by the sturdy, voluptuous figurines. To me the shape of the internal spaces was like that of a large-breasted woman lying on her back with breasts falling sideways, symbolised by the paired oval rooms. I told Jim, who answered, Yes, but what is it that you do? I do have a particular lens on the world. I really liked being at Hagar Qim and felt deeply grounded there. More wonderful coastline and lush wildflowers. The text in the adjacent museum described the figurines as obese. It’s not the right word; these figures were sturdy and well-fed in a self-sufficient society, so could have symbolised plenty and fertility.

125F7F59-EA25-408D-B719-9FF987AAA3ADCEAD9162-ACA1-409D-A5F7-006FF0AC2A401104AB2A-BF3B-4988-8D75-B1F74DBB3FA64B95D5FB-8318-4721-A6D1-4ED69C24EA816FACCF8E-A4E1-4171-BDF9-BEF18F6C5C2F35B4052D-EA87-430A-85DD-2C49EEEAE22E45879382-AB36-4D53-9664-0585AD97298C

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This city is beautiful. Mostly made from limestone, the buildings have little balconies and line cobbled streets with slippery limestone footpaths. If you look closely at the blocks edging the footpaths you can see shell fossils. This post features photos of the waterfront in the evening, and streetscapes with some focus details.

Sunset

The ship looks like it is levitating, not floating on the water

Love the amber light in this passage

Dolphin knockers were only for the privileged and a sign of wealth

Beautiful wrought iron lamps and light fittings abound

Queen Victoria outside the library
Fountain

The view from our Airbnb

Is this a deliberate decaying-seeming skull or deterioration of the limestone?

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