Posts Tagged With: Sicily

Kayak in Sicily (Sicily, Part 3)

I really wanted to do something different on this trip, something other than simply sightseeing. Since we were going to Italy, I immediately thought of doing a cooking class with an Italian Grandma, but I looked for other options. A special tour? Surfing? Kayaking?

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A company called Sicily in Kayak got rave reviews on tripadvisor. 54 “Excellent” reviews, 3 “Very Good” reviews, and no reviews below that. It had the added bonus of being in the Aeolian Islands, a place I really wanted to see on our trip. I contacted the owner, Eugenio, via email and set up a half day trip.

You guys, I can’t even tell you how absolutely spectacular Eugenio was. Spec-Freaking-Tacular. He responded almost immediately to my trip request, and it was set up via email with minimal fuss. He met us at the dock in Vulcano with a cheery smile. We ended up opting for a full day trip when we got there, so we went to a local market to pick up some sandwiches. Eugenio knew almost every person we passed and greeted them with a smile, a wave, a buon giorno or ciao. On our way to his kayak hut, he pointed out some spots on the island, including the old sulfur mines and the sulfur bath, where several people lay soaking in the mud.

Once we arrived at the kayak put in, Eugenio explained how the island of Vulcano was formed by four volcanoes, explained (with the help of a map) the geologic makeup of the island, and showed us the route we would be taking. He also offered to take some photos for us, which we took him up on because there was no way I was taking my camera on the water. He joked that he would take more photos than our wedding photographer, and he wasn’t far off!

Seeing the different rock formations from the different eras and volcanoes was really interesting. We went through a few caves, which was really fun. At the main beach area there is a vent in the water from the volcano, and it bubbles up to form a natural fountain. Oh, and there was this cave where the water was really warm from the volcano, but the sulfur smell was almost unbearable!

The natural fountain formed by an underwater vent.

The natural fountain formed by an underwater vent. The only active volcano on Vulcano is behind us in this photo.  Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

Coming out from under a natural arch

Coming out from under a natural arch. Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

In a cave, island of Vulcano.  Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

In a cave, island of Vulcano. Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

We stopped mid-day for lunch, munching on our sandwiches and talking with Eugenio, getting to know him and the island better. He opened Sicily in Kayak on Vulcano, in the Aeolian Islands, five years ago, but he’s been kayaking much longer than that. He’s from Messina, Sicily, and moved to Vulcano to follow his passion. We talked about our trip so far, then Eugenio brought out these fabulous cookies and made some Italian coffee.

Our picnic beach on Vulcano.  Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

Our picnic beach on Vulcano. Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

When we started back out, he told us it would be another hour down to the turnaround site, and then another hour to get back to the put in (you go slower on the way down to take in all the sights). About five minutes in, I knew there was simply no way I could make it another two hours. The sea had gotten a little rougher, the wind had picked up a bit, and my arms (and wrists, especially) were already worn out. So we ended up turning around and heading back early.

About halfway back, Eugenio started asking me if I wanted a tow. No, of course not, I’ll persevere! But then he started taunting me –

Eugenio taunting me with the tow line.  Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

Eugenio taunting me with the tow line. Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

And eventually, I was so worn out that I gave in.

Getting towed.  Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

Getting towed. Photo by Eugenio at Sicily in Kayak

Sadly, even towing me behind him, Eugenio was still faster than either Stephen or I could have ever been. And he just paddled along like he was out for a relaxing jaunt!

The weather was great the day we went, warm but not hot, and the water temperature was a little on the cool side. I didn’t care, I wanted to “accidentally” tip the kayak over and take a swim…until I saw the thousands of jellyfish surrounding me. I wish I could have gotten a photo of the mass of jellyfish – literally, I would put the paddle into the water on my right, look down, and see 6-8 jellyfish. Paddle in on the left side, look down, another 10. It was insane – and quite beautiful, really. But no swim for me!

One of thousands in the water that day-

One of thousands in the water that day-

When we got back to the put in, Eugenio shared some local wine – I can’t remember the name, but it was deliciously cold and refreshing. His business is just down the hill from a beautiful pool, so after our wine we were able to go up, shower the salt off our bodies, and enjoy the view. It was a lovely spot to relax and soak up some sun.

Now that's a view!

Now that’s a view!

When he drove us back to the dock, Eugenio asked if we had sampled granitas, a Sicilian specialty. We hadn’t, and he insisted on buying us a couple of them so we could try it. Granitas were originally made by bringing blocks of snow down from the mountains and packing it into cellars to keep for warmer months. Eugenio explained it in far greater detail, and I’ve unfortunately forgotten most of it, but the cold treat (I had lemon, Stephen had strawberry) was so refreshing!

Enjoying granitas-

Enjoying granitas-

One of the tripadvisor reviewers said their group had taken to calling Eugenio, “Eugenial,” because he was so genial. This is an absolutely perfect nickname for him. He was a wonderful host, an ambassador for both Vulcano and Sicily, and just a genuinely sweet man. His company, Sicily in Kayak, offers half day, full day, and multi day trips in the Aeolian Islands for beginners and advanced kayakers, and he offers both single kayaks and kayaks built for two. If you make plans to go to Sicily and enjoy kayaking, or if you’ve never kayaked and are interested in learning, I demand that you make a point of booking a trip with Eugenio. You will have a wonderful time.

Us with the wonderful Eugenio

Us with the wonderful Eugenio

Oh, and we were staying the night in Messina, where Eugenio is from, and where his dad runs a restaurant. We got the name and address (Al Gattopardo, on Via Santa Cecilia), and when we got to Messina we found out it was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. We stopped in for dinner and said hello to Nino, Eugenio’s dad. It was such a great experience all around!

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our trip to Sicily, if you haven’t already!

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A drive around Sicily – Part 2

Did you know there are more Greek ruins in Sicily than in Greece?  Crazy, huh?  If you didn’t see Part 1 of our trip, we went to the Neapolis Park in Syracuse, where we saw a still in use Greek Theater and the Ear of Dionysius. That was only the beginning.

On Day 5 of our trip, we went to the Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi), located just outside the town of Agrigento, an important city in the ancient Mediterranean world.  The Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an archaeological park that contains the remains of seven Greek Temples dating from the 5th century BC, including the Temple of Concord, which is recognized as one of the best preserved Greek ruin in the world.

Valley of the Temples, looking uphill towards the town of Agrigento

Valley of the Temples, looking uphill towards the town of Agrigento

Greek columns in Valley of the Temples

Greek columns in Valley of the Temples

Temple of Castor and Pollux, Valley of the Temples

Temple of Castor and Pollux, Valley of the Temples

Temple of Juno, Valley of the Temples

Temple of Juno, Valley of the Temples

Temple of Concordia, Valley of the Temples

Temple of Concordia, Valley of the Temples

The giant cacti at Valley of the Temples had graffiti all over them.  Kind of cool to see at first, but then we saw that the older the graffiti, the more dead that area of the cactus was, which was kind of sad.

The giant cacti at Valley of the Temples had graffiti all over them. Kind of cool to see at first, but then we saw that the older the graffiti, the more dead that area of the cactus was, which was kind of sad.

Our next stop was Selinunte, founded in the 7th century BC and once the most western of the Greek colonies in Sicily.  The archaeological park here contains 5 temples and the remains of the city walls.  We were actually able to crawl all over most of the ruins here, and being able to touch some of the carvings and walk inside a temple was incredible.

Temple E at Selinunte

Temple E at Selinunte

Greek columns at Selinunte

Greek columns at Selinunte

Stephen standing next to a piece of a column - to give you some perspective on size.

Stephen standing next to a piece of a column – to give you some perspective on size.

Temple C at Selinunte

Temple C at Selinunte

Overlooking the sea at Selinunte

Overlooking the sea at Selinunte – you can see the remains of the city wall surrounding the temple-

This image would have been on the top of the temple, and we saw similar images in the archaeological museum in Syracuse.  To me, it looks very Mayan, which makes me think of the whole collective unconscious idea.

This image would have been on the top of the temple, and we saw similar images in the archaeological museum in Syracuse. To me, it looks very Mayan, which makes me think of the whole collective unconscious idea.

We had some time to spare before we needed to check in to our hotel in Palermo, so we took a small side trip to the medieval town of Erice.  We had gotten an Italian sim card by then, so we mapped the location and set out.  We turned off just before reaching Trapani and started up this…hill.

Seriously you guys, this road was insane.  It was just over a lane wide, but meant for two way traffic.  There were no guardrails, no lane markers, and consisted almost completely of switchbacks.  Some of the turns were so tight, we couldn’t quite make the turn and had to back up a little to get around it.  When you looked down the hill, all you saw was a drop off.  Luckily, most people evidently knew better than to take this road, so there was little traffic – I think only one or two cars passed us heading down.  Oh, and an elderly man on a moped with a dog on the back.  Both of us got a good laugh out of that (wish I could have gotten a picture!).  Once we reached the top, we found out there was a cable car we could have taken up the hill from Trapani…oops!

Looking up the hill at Erice

Looking up the hill at Erice

The town overlooks the sea

The town has a commanding view over the sea

Torretta Pepoli, built on the hillside under the Balio Towers in Erice

Torretta Pepoli, built on the hillside under the Balio Towers in Erice

We were smarter when we left Erice, choosing to go down the opposite side of the hill, where the road was wider and there were actually lane markers.  We both breathed much easier.  We arrived in Palermo around 5pm, checked into our hotel, and wandered out to find a place to eat.

And got lost in the wrong part of town.  More on that later.

The next day, May 1, was a holiday, so the only thing I was really interested in seeing in Palermo (the catacombs) were sure to be closed.  Instead of sticking around in Palermo, we went on to our next destination, Milazzo.  It was nice being in a smaller town again, and I’m sure the fact that it was a holiday helped, because the town was ssssllllllooooowwww.  No traffic, no noise – oh, so very nice (I’ve become so spoiled!).

Because it was a holiday, we didn’t do much.  In fact, the main reason we stopped in Milazzo was so we could catch a ferry the next morning to the Aeolian Islands, where we had a kayaking trip booked.

And that will be the next post, because it really, truly deserves its own post.  So stay tuned for Part 3!

Panorama at Selinunte

Panorama at Selinunte

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A drive around Sicily – Part 1

We just got back from a 10 day trip in Sicily, where we drove around the whole island, saw some amazing Greek ruins, and did a kayaking trip with the most amazing host ever! How about some stories and photos?

We flew into Catania on the East coast of Sicily. We had hoped to get a sim card for the phone when we landed at the airport, but couldn’t find them for sale, so we ventured into the city blind, with no idea where our hotel was. This was…a mistake, to say the least, as we quickly discovered, mostly because driving in Sicily was INSANE. I’ll say more about that later…. Anyway, we ended up turning on the roaming on our Finnish sim card, just to map the hotel and cache it.

We spent a day wandering around Catania, soaking up the warmth and sights of the city. I suffered a bit of culture shock, with all the buildings and people and cars and noise – seems I’ve gotten quite used to small-town-Finland life!

Roman Amphitheatre, Piazza Stesicoro, Catania Sicily

Roman Amphitheatre, Piazza Stesicoro, Catania Sicily

Graffiti seems to be a national pastime in Sicily...

Graffiti seems to be a national pastime in Sicily…

The next day, we took a drive up to Mt Etna, which looms over Catania. Mt Etna is the highest volcano in Europe, and remains quite active. It’s actually just been accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with an official proclamation scheduled for June, per Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the day we went, the clouds were low, and when we took the cable car up to the top of Etna visibility there was less than 20 feet. We had hoped to do an excursion to the top of the volcano, but the weather made it impossible. Still, we were able to walk around the Silvestri Craters at the main tourist hub, which were the source of lava flow in the 1892 eruption.

Mt Etna, towering over the city of Catania

Mt Etna, towering over the city of Catania

Silvestri Crater at Mt Etna

Silvestri Crater at Mt Etna

Next, we drove down to Syracuse and spent the afternoon wandering around the Old Town portion, Ortygia Island, which I completely fell in love with. It was a much slower pace than Catania, better maintained, and surrounded by the sea, which immediately made me happy. We saw the end of a wedding at the cathedral in Piazza Duomo, then chose a restaurant at random for dinner. Twenty minutes later, four people came in with American accents, saying they were with the Rick Steves tour. Twenty more Americans quickly followed. This little restaurant in Syracuse, and it’s the two of us, 24 other Americans, and a handful of Italians eating. Go figure!

Looking over Porto Piccolo in Siracusa, Sicily

Looking over Porto Piccolo in Siracusa, Sicily

Castello Maniace, perched on a promontory at the south end of Ortygia, Syracuse Sicily

Castello Maniace, perched on a promontory at the south end of Ortygia, Syracuse Sicily

Temple of Apollo, from the 6th century BC

Temple of Apollo, from the 6th century BC

We spent the night in Syracuse at a lovely hotel, then in the morning walked across the street to the Museo Archeologico Regionale, which houses statues, pottery, and other artifacts from the 5th century BC and earlier, from Greek, Roman, and Christian eras. It was stunning to see so many artifacts so well preserved. Next we went down the street to the Parco Archeologico Della Neapolis, which includes a Greek Theater, a Roman Amphitheater, and the Ear of Dionysius – a soaring cavern (76ft high) with amazing acoustics. Supposedly you can stand at one end and hear a whisper at the other end, 214 feet away, but everyone there wanted to yell.

The Ear of Dionysius, at the Syracuse Archaeological Park

The Ear of Dionysius, at the Syracuse Archaeological Park

Inside the Ear of Dionysius

Inside the Ear of Dionysius

Roman Amphitheater in Syracuse

Roman Amphitheater in Syracuse

Also in Syracuse was this Cathedral that looked quite interesting from the outside – it reminded me of the Church of Saint Joseph in Le Havre, France. However, when we went inside, we were surprised that it was essentially a concrete bunker, and everything above the ceiling of the second floor level was blocked. There was no light streaming in through the top, as we expected. Very strange…

Our Lady of Tears Shrine in Syracuse, Sicily

Our Lady of Tears Shrine in Syracuse, Sicily

Next we drove to Agrigento, where we strolled with the locals along what was apparently a promenade. Everyone was out in their Sunday best, seeing and being seen, arm in arm with husbands, friends, and grandchildren. And I forgot to put the SD card back in my camera, so unfortunately, no pictures…

I think that’s enough for now. Keep an eye out for Part 2 of our trip, when we go to the Valley of the Temples, Selinunte, and the medieval town of Erice!

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Sicily – A Sneak Peek

We just got back from a 10 day trip around Sicily, where we saw a huge volcano, tons of Greek ruins, and went kayaking in the Aeolian Islands.  I’m working on getting through the photos and doing a write up of our trip, but in the meantime, how about a little teaser?

In Catania, Sicily

In Catania, Sicily

Catania, Sicily

Catania, Sicily

Love these little guys!

Love these little guys!

Greek ruins in Agrigento

Greek ruins in Agrigento

Greek ruins overlooking the Mediterranean

Greek ruins overlooking the Mediterranean

Medieval castle in Erice, Sicily

Medieval castle in Erice, Sicily

On the island of Vulcano

On the island of Vulcano, in the Aeolian Islands

Kayaking in Sicily, photo by Eugenio at SicilyinKayak.com

Kayaking the Aeolian Islands, photo by Eugenio at SicilyinKayak.com

 

 

 

 

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