Sicily November 2017 Part 1: Noise, fresh fish, beggars, and more noise……

Here I am, relaxing in a small Sicilian city by the sea. I’ve chosen to live 3 months in Acireale, to the east of Catania at the base of Mt Etna. I’m on a quest to find the good food, wine, and the best cafes/bars in town. So far, after one week, there is not much to report. I was hoping for lots of fresh seafood and discovered that seasonally the fish are not hunted to allow for replenishment of the species. So if I’m eating fish in the restaurants and it’s not “the fish of the day” then it is most likely frozen. And the “fish of the day” is going to be expensive compared to the rest of the menu. I am sure I can find affordable fresh fish at the daily market if I would get my butt out of bed that early….but I don’t like to cook the fish, I just like to eat it!

On my first day, I stopped by an eatery recommended by my landlord for a plate of mixed salami & cheeses. I’m not impressed. Poor Sicily has to stand up in comparison to Tuscany in my mind, which as we know has some of the best food in the world. I did get to try the new yield of Nero d’Avola wine which was pretty good. Nero d’Avola has never been my favorite though. Speaking of new yields, my landlord gave me a bottle of his new olive oil which is very spicy and delicious! I look forward to using it in my own cooking in the apartment.

The little trattoria in which I ate on day two has the Nerello Mascalese as their house wine. Ristorante L’Oste Scuro di Fazio Vincenzo.  Nerello Mascalese is a much smoother wine than the more famous Nero d’Avola. I like it! And I very much enjoyed the baked calamari stuffed with bread, cheese, capers, and pine nuts. It was delicious! After my meal I requested Amaro as a digestive. The owner, who waited on everyone, kept pouring into the glass until I said “basta!” Ha! By the time I realized what he was doing, my glass was very full. I will return to this trattoria. I enjoyed the meal and ambiance very much.

I had planned to stay in the apartment today and recover from my trip here and all of my walking around the last two days….but the day is beautiful and I just can’t make myself do it! Sundays are a nice day to be out and about as Italians spend it usually walking around as a family. It makes for good people watching. My landlord recommended a second restaurant to me: Ristorante Ficho d’India. It’s day 3 and time to try the “fresh fish”. While waiting for Ficho to open, I found what might be the equivalent of the favorite local hangout bar in down town Acireale…..the Eldorado! Outdoor seating, lots of locals, coffee drinks, liquor, hot food, cold food, etc etc with very nice staff. A clean and friendly place. I will hang out here more often. While sitting on a park bench watching the world go by, an old Sicilian man tried to “pick me up” and I don’t mean off the ground. HA! He wanted too much personal information and got closer & closer to me until he was stroking my arm. Once again Italian men have reinforced to me why they are called octopuses! They just can’t keep their hands to themselves! I told him I didn’t like that he was touching me, he seemed bruised and left. Yea!

So, the time came for the restaurant to open and I’ve heard that one must be early in order to have a good selection of the fresh fish. I don’t know what it was that I ate. I pointed and they cooked it! It was pretty, and tasty, and very expensive! I was amazed that the fish itself cost $37 while the wine, bread, water, salad, and digestivo combined cost $12. Jeez! So yes, eating out in Sicily is very inexpensive if one does not have the fresh fish. After this large lunch I required an ample amount of walking. My legs are so tired! Once back to my apartment I pulled out my yoga mat and did some serious stretching out on the balcony, watching the sun set. A very fun day!

Ok, if you are going to rent an apartment in an apartment building remember that you have neighbors above, below, and on all sides. This absolutely beautiful apartment is marred only by the excessive noise. Not only is there the regular honking of horns, sounding of car and house alarms, and barking dogs. There is oh so much more when living in an apartment building! Upstairs I have: a woman who needs to vacuum every day at 7:30a while wearing hard shoes, a dog with clickety claws, and a man who snores all night. You would think the 2 foot thick floors would impede the sound but it only magnifies it. And to add to my social adjustment, the apartments next to me and 3 floors below me are undergoing at least two weeks of demolition and construction. Pounding for hours starting at 8a, reverberates through the entire building. My first two nights here were divine. I haven’t slept much since. And I’m not here to “tour” but to “live”, so being out of my apartment for most of the day just to get some peace was not in my personal agenda. Sigh. (Side note: After a few days, I’ve adjusted to the noise….if I don’t drink coffee I can go to sleep by midnight and be awake before the noise starts in the morning. During the day, like living next to a train track, one gets used to the noise. Of course not being able to drink espresso in the country with the very best espresso is a bit of a bummer. But sleep is more important….)

An observation: It is very strange to these people that I have traveled here alone. I am asked very personal questions by complete strangers, usually men. How old am I? Am I married? Do I have children? No? Why not? Didn’t I want children? Where is my husband? Why is he not here with me? They don’t approve of my answers and just shake their heads at my strangeness. So much interest about what has gone into or come out of my vagina; I find it to be very rude. They don’t arbitrarily ask what kind of bowel movement someone had that morning, so why is it acceptable to ask a woman if she has pushed anything out of her womb in her lifetime? Whose business is it if a woman doesn’t fulfill the socially expected role by having children and serving a family? And what if that woman is already heartbroken because all she ever wanted was children that she couldn’t have? And it’s not just Italy. Women around the world who have chosen not to breed or who could not breed are asked why or why not when truly it is no ones’ business. No matter what country I visit, even in my own, such personal questions are common from men and still always a shock. They represent the lack of respect toward women that is prevalent in this religiously driven patriarchal world.

Another observation: How does one deal with the African beggar? Migration from Africa is a real problem for Europe. So many men have come here expecting to be taken care of then do nothing to fit in. Many don’t learn the language, or adopt to local customs, work, or respect the citizens. I see them hound the locals for handouts, not taking no for an answer. Well today it was my turn. This man confronted me two days ago asking for money, saying he was hungry, and I said no and handed him some fruit from my shopping bag instead. He looked at me like I just handed him something filthy. Well as I went exploring the bus route today, he saw me. “Signora! Signora! Signora!” he says with his hand out. I say no (twice) and continue on with what I am doing. “Signora! Signora! Signora!” at least 20 more times, so rudely! He knows I heard him. I have responded twice with no, yet he abuses me with the constant “Signora!” like it will wear me down. All it does is piss me off. I offered to feed him and he refused, telling me he needs money for a bus ticket to Catania. Too bad. I don’t give money to the Africans because I know that money is taken from them by the Nigerian mafia, which is very powerful in Sicily. I don’t want to do anything to encourage the oppression of others which is why I offer food instead. I figure the mafia can’t take that away. In past travels, my offer of food has been mostly appreciated and has given me a chance to visit with them and hear their stories while they eat. Yet this guy refuses and is rudely hammering in his approach. I just want to punch him in the head. I have to ask myself, “Why does he scare me?” It’s not like he is physically accosting me, nor would he. I don’t feel in physical danger, yet my response to his belligerence is anger which is a sign of fear. An opportunity for self-examination……I think next time he does this I will take a photo.

(I am not sure why some of the photos in this post have come out sideways. They are not sideways in the website gallery. There is nothing to be done about it so hopefully you can enjoy them anyway.)


5 Days in Barcelona: Day 5, February 2017

Day 5: This morning I walked to La Sagrada Familia from the hotel. It took about half an hour. There I met some friends from Italy who came to spend the day with me, Barbara and Paola. We toured La Sagrada Familia, which is the most impressive and truly beautiful church I have ever seen. The architectural genius of Antoni Gaudi is truly seen in this building. And it is still not finished! The construction will span almost 150 years from 1882 to 2028, the estimated finish date. I was very impressed.  Don’t miss the museum below the entrance. It explains so much!

After touring the Sagrada Familia, we walked back almost to the hotel where we met Barbara’s Spanish friend Maria for lunch….at Mussol….AGAIN! Wow!! I had no idea when I ate my little desayunos there in the mornings that Mussol was an entire restaurant and so beautiful inside! Mussol has many locations. This one is the Mussol Arago. Here I got to have my first la comida! I have to say, the little chorizos were delightful and the steak was one of the best I’ve ever eaten! I also tried vermouth for the first, second, and third times! Yep, it was so good that I had two more glasses. (And the whole experience with friends and fine food was so distracting to this blogger that I completely forgot to take food photos! Oops!) I later discovered on my way back to Italy that there was one of these Mussol restaurants in the Barcelona Airport Terminal 1.

After a divine feast, the four of us took the bus to Park Guell.  The entry cost is 7 euros. I thought the park was beautiful and would have spent a little more time there but all of sudden my 3 companions wanted to go to the Picasso Museum at the other end of the city! This trip would require either a bus or a metro trip. I requested the bus but we missed it by 30 seconds. Rather than wait for the next one, Maria compelled us to walk to the nearest metro station which she said was very close. 20 minutes of high speed walking and we were still not at the metro. My stress level was climbing both from the prospect of riding the metro  and from the pain in my lower back and legs from too much fast walking. All of a sudden I was too tired to do any more. We hailed a taxi and I took my leave of my friends to go back to the hotel. I was so exhausted from the miles I walked the last 5 days that all I could do was take a hot shower, have a good therapeutic cry, pack, and go to bed early because I had a stupid early flight in the morning. But often that is the extra price we pay for a good price on a plane ticket. I look forward to a day of rest and sleep when I get back to Lucca.

I want to make a note of the contrast I noticed once I got back to Italy. The Spanish people are very, very kind; more so even than the Italians, which I never would have expected as Italians are a very friendly people. The bathrooms in Spain were as clean as the ones in Germany! The Italian bathrooms are often filthy. The bread in Spain is very edible and the bread in Italy has too much volume with not enough flavor. The Spanish appear to be very healthy, I saw maybe 2 people with a cold the whole 5 days I was there. Sitting in the Italian airport now, I notice that many of the Italians around me are sick. I think the cleanliness, friendliness, and healthy diet of the Spanish is to credit for the difference.  Also they don’t kiss each other every time they meet. That being said, I still LOVE Italy!! I’m just tempted to spend more time in Spain.

5 Days in Barcelona: Day 4, February 2017

Day 4: This day was on foot. I was exhausted by the end but had a terrific time! After having another flauta de fuet at Mussol, I managed to locate the Museu Xocolata with some help from locals who I asked for directions. The Star Wars in Chocolate exhibit was in the house and quite creative. I found the tour was worth the 6 euros. Even though everything I read there could be found online, as a chocolate lover I found it entertaining.  I didn’t buy anything there because the prices were outrageous!

On the way to my next destination I stumbled upon a festival to Santa Eulalia. She’s the patron saint of Barcelona. I’ve included several photos of the costumes and the mojiganga, large puppets worn on the shoulders. Here’s a link to a short video of the festival and further explanation: I was wondering what all of that drumming was about!! I always love local festivals and was jazzed to have just stumbled upon one!

Next on my list was the Hash Marijuana & Hemp Museum. When I got there and went into the free downstairs part I realized that as an American hemp activist living in Colorado, there was probably not going to be anything in there that I didn’t know already. So I decided not to pay the entry fee for the upstairs. They have an awesome atrium window up there though! I took a photo for you from the outside. I wanted to save my euros in case I found an artisan market at which to buy gifts for my friends back home……and sure enough! Right around the corner from the hemp museum was a tiny 4 tent artisan market! The first I have seen since arriving in the city. I dropped 50 euro picking up bracelets and such. I had a lovely discussion in Spanish with the sweet woman from whom I bought said stuff, about how the young are not interested in the artisanal items and would rather buy plastic Chinese-made crap. Sadly the artisan markets are dying there.

I was so hungry after the day of walking and wanted something other than another plate of tapas. So I wished for some soup. Right around the corner from the hemp museum  was a Ramen bar!!! I got a big bowl of ramen and a plate of gyoza dumplings. Koku Kitchen is such a cool little joint! And I discovered from the woman I was sitting next to that it is literally the very best ramen bar in Barcelona. HA! The Witchy Wanderer is 3 for 3 today! Festival, artisan market, and ramen!

Also on my list was the erotic museum, but I was just too tired. I only wanted to be back in the room and put my feet up. Later in the evening I popped out for a tuna belly and tomato sandwich from around the corner. Wow!! That is a great sandwich! I bought a bottle of the wine I really liked at the tasting last night from the reception desk. It was very nice to spend a relaxing evening in the room.

a pagan PTSD veteran woman's view of slow travel, culture, & food