Category: Italy


Well, been a while, so there are going to be quite a few posts in a row to sum up our travels from the past 3 months, where we hit another 6 countries! After we were in San Marino, we decided we must check out Venice before heading back to Milan for the Champions League match between Tottenham and AC Milan. Anyway, after a shorter train ride, we dropped into Venice around 7pm, dropped our bags and got some dinner before hitting the city the next day.

Crazy bird guy in San Marco Square

We hear all the stories about Venice sinking, smelling bad, and pretty much falling apart. Well, all of those are true unfortunately, in one way or the other. Venice is sinking, but not in the way we think. The water keeps rising because of the oceans, and the fact that Venice still doesn’t have a good lock system surrounding it. If they ever get that up and running, I think Venice will be safe, but that’s only the first step to preserving that city. The whole city has fallen into ruin, and is dilapidated everywhere you look. Yes, it’s not as easy to maintain a city where everything can only be accessed by canals, but it must be done. The city is not built for children or the elderly either, so if you have them or are so, don’t visit Venice.

We stayed at a small hotel right on the canal, across from the train station. It actually was nice, but you could tell they are always under the constant battle of humidity, especially since it seemed all the wood in the building was being replaced with composite wood. Anyway, it was a good location and the next morning we set our sights on the city. Venice is very small, but at times seems large because you have to walk everywhere, and some of the streets are so small (3 feet wide) that you feel like you’re walking forever in a maze at times. Well, in fact you are, since you technically can never get lost in Venice, albeit we tried a few times and ran into the same thing each time….water!

the view of the Rialto Bridge from our gondola

Now, we did the few things that ever person “should” do when the visit Venice. Have dinner at a nice little restaurant, walk across the Rialto Bridge, sit in San Marco square, and take a ride in an overpriced, and less charming than advertised, gondola! The latter is the most famous thing to do in Venice, as heard by tourists for years, but we’ll confirm that it has lost most of its charm. There are hundreds of gondola’s around the canals, and they all bother you like a peddler on the beach in Mexico. Second, they are vastly overpriced. $85 for a half hour is robbery, but it’s for the experience right? Then, when you think that the gondoliers are going to sing, they actually get on their mobile phones and chat with their friends…..who are also gondoliers! Was it nice going down the Grand Canal on a gondola, sure. Would we do it again, no!

Getting lost in the streets of Venice

Venice is extremely expensive to live in, so rates like these need to exist for these workers to live. The problem is I didn’t think Venice was that great, and didn’t live up to the hype. On the other hand, it’s a unique city, and does have hidden gems to see…like riding away on a boat to see Murano Island, the home of the famous glass makers, which surprise, is also vastly overpriced! We thought we found a killer piece for our home, wherever that might be in a few years, only to find out that it was about 10x the price I had in my head….and there were thousands of pieces in this one store on the island. Safe to say, I can see why their business is hurting as well.

Worker molding out some pieces on Murano Island

The food we had for a few nights there was extremely good, taking away the joint we ate on the first night that was some of the worst Italian food I’ve ever eaten, let alone Annemarie who is a critic beyond critics when it comes to her favorite food. The little trattorias that we found the other nights were great, and tucked away in corners as we expected they woud be, spoke zero english, and everything was homemade. That will stick with me as my fondest memory of Venice.

Best shot of the weekend!

After 2 nights in Venice, we headed back over to Milan to only encounter some terrible weather, which continued throughout the whole day and night. Good thing there was some cover, and that our seats were covered at the match, otherwise it would have been a pretty miserable day. It was a great end to the trip, as Tottenham upset AC Milan, 1-0, with the winner coming in the 80th minute. Standing up and cheering in the middle of a group of Italian fans is not the smartest thing to do, but with the amount of police around, I had no fear. Of course we left the match before most of the Tottenham fans did, and disguised ourselves until we made it back to the hotel 🙂

Great match & a great win for Spurs!

After we visited Cianciana to see the family, we both knew the rest of the time in Sicily would be somewhat of a letdown, even though we’d still eat well! So we decided to spend a day in Agrigento, which was home base for the duration of our stay in Sicily. The city isn’t much to brag about. It’s become very popular recently with younger people, who are moving out of the small villages to bigger cities just for the nightlife and employment opportunities. Plus, it’s right near the coast, and you can be on the beach within 10 minutes. Would we visit Agrigento again? No, we covered that city pretty well in one day and saw all the sights that one would want to see, but I’m glad we were there.

ruins of Agrigento

Now, the one thing that Agrigento does have going for it is history. If you didn’t know, about every country has attacked Sicily over its history, but one country left a lasting mark that is pretty identifiable, and that would be Greece. Agrigento looks like the second coming of Athens when you see all the ruins next to the city. And to be honest, the ruins here are preserved much better. The ruins aren’t overrun by tourists either…..yet. I think since Sicily is becoming more accessible to the rest of mainland Europe, the ruins will get a lot more traffic over the coming years, but hopefully they’ll keep them protected so they don’t get abused like the Greek Ruins or the Pyramids.

Pretty intact don't you think?

But as I said, there really isn’t much to the city, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking. We’re glad we saw it, but I don’t think we’ll be back, unless it’s just passing through.

Now, on our last night in Sicily, we wanted to make sure we were closer to Trapani since our flight was out of there, and it’s not really near anything. So, I picked Mazara del Vallo, and yet again, this will be a city we never visit again. Honestly, besides a few things of food we tried, I could have sworn we were in North Africa somewhere, more specifically Morocco. This city was a complete 180 to Cianciana, and not in a good way. As soon we pulled into town to check into our hotel, I knew this wasn’t going to be that great.

random wall art in the kasbah of Mazara del Vallo

The only unique thing about the city that I found interesting was that it had a Kasbah, and that is what reminded me of what Morocco might be like. Never been there before….guess I’ll find out when we visit. The area that the kasbah was in is very tight, and the roads are not meant for cars, although a few do squeak inside the walls, and when I say squeak, I mean rub a little on both sides. I’m not kidding. But they have transformed the whole area into a shopping mecca with bars scattered all around. What was once a pretty sleepy area of town is now the main focus.

Our final day in Sicily found us yelling at the GPS, which we were told is pretty much worthless here, and questioning whether or not we were going the right direction to Trapani Airport. We made it there, albeit 3 hours before our flight, but that’s ok. I was going to take the extra time to call Hertz and let them know they’ll be refunding my entire rental car, since multiple things didn’t work on the car, we had a constant warning light, the GPS died about an hour into the trip on Day 1, and it actually wasn’t the car they told me I rented. And I don’t mean when you rent a car online and it says “Car X or similar.” No, I mean “sir, your XXX is outside, spot 16” and then we go outside and there is no car in Spot 16 and when we finally found our car, it’s not the kind of car they told me it was supposed to be. On top of that, they overcharged me for every extra on the planet, and double charged me on other things. Thanks Hertz, I’ll enjoy that free rental!

Rock the Kasbah

Overall, Sicily was great, and we’ll be back sooner than later, or according to Annemarie, we’ll be going back on our next trip. I look forward to seeing Cianciana again, and spending a few days there just relaxing and talking with all the old guys on the street. Of course I’d have to learn Sicilian first, but that would be something if some random Yank sat down and started chatting with them.

Agrigento & Mazara del Vallo Pictures

Ciao!

There are few words that sit at the tip of my tongue. I can tell you after being with family in Cianciana for one day, four words are now permanently in my vocabulary: Buongiorno, Si, Grazie and Ciao! If we could have logged how many times those words were spoken over the 13 hour family fest we had yesterday, I’m not sure we would believe it. So I’ll break this down a little for you. Annemarie’s roots start in this little agricultural town in Sicily, called Cianciana. You would pronounce this “chin-chon-uh.” Now that we have that base covered, let’s jump straight into the day.

Official Town Sign

Annemarie has wanted to visit Sicily ever since we started traveling heavily back in 2004. As she would put it, I never really “found room” to fit it in to any trip we took….in the past 6 years. Well now that I have visited, I’ll be the first to say that I regret holding out so long. Cianciana was nothing like either of us expected, and is now near the top of the list to be visited again the next time we’re in Europe. Before we headed up, we decided that we should get a translator for the day, since we knew that most of the family didn’t speak much English. Well that ended up being the best decision we made….other than visiting in the first place. The man we hired is actually connected to the family in a 6 degrees of separation kind of way, which is too confusing to get into, but let’s just say he’s family….since he is. His name is Alfie Orlando, and he’s below:

Our tour guide, and new friend, Alfie

Alfie is so full of life, it’s hard not to like the guy. And he knows more about Sicily than probably anyone on the planet, and seems to thrive on gaining new knowledge about the island. Safe to say, our day wouldn’t have been the same without him there. Anyway, onto the madness of the day. So we roll into town I’d say around 10:30am and immediately we are drawn back by how beautiful this place is. It’s set up in the mountains, and stuck in between the mountain range and the Mediterranean Sea, which allows a cool breeze to constantly flow through the town. I would say the early settlers picked the perfect location, as we couldn’t find a bad view from any vantage point we found. As soon as we roll into town, we are immediately greeted by family members…and more family members….and MORE family members. They were multiplying almost like clones, coming from every corner. I was kissed on the cheek more in this one day than I have been in the previous 32 years of my life. It was quite a bit to take in.

As soon as we got to town, we of course wanted to see the house that Annemarie’s mother and grandparents lived in years ago. I actually had spotted a preview of the house on Google Maps. Yes, Google has even done StreetView for this tiny town in the middle of Sicily. Anyway, it looked exactly how I remembered it, and here is real thing that we saw yesterday:

The Antinoro Home in Cianciana

I think Annemarie was quite shocked that she actually was in Cianciana, and staring at the house that her mother grew up in until she was about 10 years old. I’m not exactly sure how old this building is, but I can say there are other buildings in town that are almost 400 years old. This town has quite a bit of history, and it’s amazing that so much of Annemarie’s family is part of that history, and continues to keep making it today, as so many of them continue to reside there. So after we saw the house, the family walked us all over town, showing us everything they possibly could in a few hours. We found out later they did this because they knew we’d only be in town for one day, and wanted to stuff as much in as they could. Their typical visitor would stay for about a month, so we were quite the challenge to them I think.

First shot of some family...

Second shot with some family on the town steps...

And then we have Annemarie with two of her distant cousins….same height, 15 year age difference!

Annemarie, Claudia and Elisa

After touring around town for a few hours, we noticed the whole town had pretty disappeared. Honestly, around 2pm, Cianciana had turned into a ghost town. Why? It was lunch time, and all the businesses shut down for the most part so everyone can go home and enjoy lunch…..for a few hours! We had been invited to join the family at a family run restaurant, that actually was an old house that had been restored into a restaurant, and was once owned by a distant relative of who else…Annemarie. After hearing that, I truly believe that every person, dog, and building in town has some connection to my wife, which is pretty incredible. So onto dinner, which was 7 courses of heaven. And since I can’t describe it in words, I’ll let the pictures do the talking for a couple of the courses…

Anti-Pasta: Course 1

The pasta, that also had swordfish with it....Course 2

The Meat Course

Course 4: Prawns

Course 7: Shots of Amora, a digestive

Surprise Course 8: More Amora, guess you are supposed to sip it!

So safe to say we had more than enough to eat, quite a bit of homemade wine, and then shots of Amora to top it off. We then were taken to a few family homes, where we did some more “digestives” as they would call them. The family likes to have a good time, and I had no problem participating.

We ended the day hanging out on a rooftop terrazzo that was owned by one of Annemarie’s distant cousins, and had some great views of the town and the mountains. This is the area where the family hangs out most of the time, as they always like to be outdoors. On top of that, a random couple came by that was doing some hunting into their family roots, and had found this particular house with the help of a local. Now it isn’t confirmed yet, but I have a solid $100 bet with many family members that these two random people, who were from North Carolina, end up being related to everyone we hung out with that day. And whether that is true or not, you could see the warmth of the family as soon as they arrived in regards to treating strangers. Within minutes this couple had cookies and drinks, kicked back and chatted with the family for over an hour. It was a sight to see. I’m sure we’ll see them again soon.

Safe to say, our trip to Cianciana was very memorable, and we’ll be back as soon as we can to visit again to spend more time with our extended family…and hopefully know how to speak quite a bit more Sicilian by then. The day flew by, and we wished we had more time to hang out, but as everyone knows, we move quick, and have lots more to see. I’ll report next about Agrigento and Marsala while we are on layover in Madrid waiting to fly to Johannesburg. Until then, Ciao!

Pictures from Cianciana

Cianciana

There are four words you hear more than any other in Sicily…Buongiorno, Si, Grazie and Ciao! I now have these words burned into my brain, and will use them in everyday life…or at least when I visit Sicily or Le Roy :-). So our long trip to Cianciana started in Chicago back on Friday at 9am. We had to fly to London for the night to catch the first flight in the morning on Saturday to Rome. Flight to London was pretty uneventful, other than we hit serious turbulence for about 15 minutes where the flight attendants fell over in the aisles. Did I care? Not really, what am I going to do about it! We get into London, take a ridiculously overpriced taxi to the hotel, and crash….for about 4 hours! Get back and head back to Heathrow to find out we are pretty much the first people to go through security that day….at 5am. For those that haven’t been to T5 yet at Heathrow, it’s pretty solid, and only serves British Airways. We have been in our share of airports, and this was near the top. Moving on.

We head down to Rome, where we had another 3 hour layover. Mind you, I usually fly direct with minimum connections, but when you get bumped into an award ticket that costs you nothing, you take what you can get, hence our patchwork trip to get to Sicily. We land in Rome, and I remember the airport like I was there yesterday….even thought it was almost 6 years ago. We don’t have our boarding passes for our next flight to Palermo, so we stop at a desk to ask if we can transfer without going through security again. They say yes, and just go to the transfer desk to get our tickets. Sounds easy enough…well almost too easy. We go through one security check, and they just ask to see our confirmation that we actually have tickets. We have that. We then go through passport control where they usually stamp you since you’ve now entered the Schengen Zone. Well I handed my passport to him…..and he waved it on. He never even opened it! So Annemarie and I look at each other and figure they’ll probably stamp us in Palermo…..no. So as of right now while we are enjoying Sicily, there really is no proof that we are actually here!

So we land in Palermo, and head to the rental car place. All seems fine, until they add every single extra charge onto the bill. I felt like Seinfeld when he visited Puddy at the Saab dealership and was getting charged for “unnecessary overcharges, transmission protection, and of course, keys…..to drive the car.” Believe me I’ll be on the phone with Hertz once I get a decent time, since the car they gave us was the wrong one, half the options don’t work, and the GPS died an hour into the trip. Thankfully you can charge it, so we’ve gotten by since then. Within that hour, we were able to find Corleone, where I wanted to visit as soon as we confirmed Sicily. Well, there isn’t much to say, as it’s not much of a town to visit. I knew it wasn’t that great when we saw an old poster of “The Godfather” taped onto a wall near the town square. What I thought would be an homage to one of the most famous town in Mafia movie history, ended up being nothing but a small town that if you blinked would pass you by. Oh well, much more to see!

We head out of Corleone, only to realize we now have no GPS or idea on how to get down to Agrigento, where we’d be staying for the first 3 nights in Sicily. Thankfully, I had printed out some Google Map sheets just in case the GPS sucked……which it did, so my best paid off. Of course, we took a bunch of wrong turns since the signs in Sicily are questionable, but we made it in decent time.

So we are now in Agrigento, at our B&B, and decided to grab a quick dinner, a couple Moretti’s, and some Gelato, and then crash for the night to be on our game for tomorrow’s adventure to Cianciana to meet the family. Wait until you read about this day. Ciao!

Corleone Museum

Wild Trip 2010 is about to begin…

June 4th is almost here, and we are about to embark on yet another crazy trip.  It’s hard to believe we did our World Trip 15 months ago, still feels like yesterday. That being said, we haven’t slowed down at all. We’ve technically been planning this trip for 4 years, or the last time we were at the World Cup in Germany. That trip got us hooked, and just increased the interest in visiting South Africa. Now the time is here, and we are about leave on a 16 day adventure that should be unique in many ways.

Now, seeing it takes forever and a day to get to Cape Town,  we decided to break the trip up, and spend time in Europe at the beginning and end of the trip. And as you can tell in previous posts, I don’t really like to visit the same places twice, unless I have to. But Annemarie has wanted to visit Sicily since the first time we stepped in Rome 6 years ago, and now we’re finally going to make it happen. So, we start our trip in Sicily, Agrigento to be exact. Found a nice B&B that looks over the Valley of the Temples, and puts us in a pretty good location to do day trips around western Sicily. The highlight of the trip will be the day trip to Cianciana, where Annemarie’s roots begin, and where she still has quite a bit of her extended family.  I won’t even begin to think how the day will go….or how much food we’ll eat, but I’m sure it will be memorable.

From there we head off to Cape Town, and while we are there we’ll see a couple of World Cup matches at the new stadium. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to Cape Town, so the 5 days we have down there will be jam packed. From the matches, to Table Mountain, to hitting wine country, I think Cape Town will have more to do that we think. On top of that, after being in Germany 4 years ago, we both learned that the World Cup is the biggest party on the planet, and meeting people from all over the world is always fun. I look forward to having pints with people from Asia, South America, and the Middle East while watching a match at the pub. That’s what makes this world event so great.

After Cape Town, we head back to Europe, for some “ludicrous” travel as we like to call. We’re going to hit Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I wanted to make the back-end of the trip unique, and I figure any trip that includes Luxembourg and Liechtenstein would fit the bill, seeing the majority of people I speak to have never even heard of the latter. This trip will be 16 days of constant movement, but we intend to absorb every minute of it. We’ll be posting again from the beautiful Italian island of Sicily.

Ciao!