Sicily Part 5: Ortigia with fish, sunsets, and the best Armenian food! January 2018

Such a lovely place, Ortigia. If I ever come back to stay for a while in Sicily, I think a place I could visit again would be Ortiga, Siracusa. It is the oldest part of a very ancient city. Very small and easy to navigate. My apartment, that I found on Airbnb, was easily within walking distance of the train station. and quite perfect for a 4 night visit for one person.  After getting settled in, I went in search of lunch! I found several recommendations on TripAdvisor and had contacted them in advance to see if they would be open. Mid-January is a very common time for businesses to be closed for “ferie”, the much needed time for renovation and/or recovery from a busy holiday season. Many of the “best” restaurants were closed so I decided to try Osteria del Vecchio Ponte. Fabio was an excellent host and I had the place to myself as lunch is not the main meal for most Italians, especially mid-week. I tried the very big and fat raviolis stuffed with ricotta cheese and covered in a black sepia sauce. I got about half way through the plate and had to stop because it was so rich! I’ve never eaten sepia sauce, made from the black ink of squids, and probably won’t eat it again. I followed this with a very delicious plate of fried fish and seafood. The house wine was pretty good too. All in all, I was very satisfied with my experience. I was also very enamored by the charming-ness of this island. I’m glad I found a tamarindo stand! My tummy was in need of a good degestivo after that meal!

My very favorite restaurant find was Taverna Yerevan! One of only two Armenian restaurants in all of Italy, you won’t go wrong eating here. Michele is an amazing host! And believe me, after months of eating fish and pasta, a huge plate of perfectly seasoned grilled meat with a side of tabouleh hit the spot! And I got to drink wine from the oldest wine region in the world! Yep, the very first wines were made in what is now Armenia. I had no idea! This is very close to the best wine I’ve ever tasted. I bought a bottle of it to take home to Colorado. Manfred will love it! This place was so awesome that I ate there twice in my 4 day visit. Mmmm!

One evening I decided all of a sudden that I had to taste pizza while I am in Sicily! Italian pizza is very different than US pizza, and New York is some of our most famous. Since the New York style pizza is greatly influenced by the Sicilian immigrants to that area, I can’t miss this opportunity. I stopped a couple of young people in the street and asked them where was the very best pizza in Ortigia. In unison they responded, “Pizzeria Archemedi!” and proceeded to give me directions. It was quite yummy! Although the “Be careful, Signora” hot oil was not really hot. Tasty, but not hot. HA! Colorado knows hot stuff! Anyway, I was very pleased with my Sicilian pizza experience!

In my search for good Sicilian wine I found Perricone, whose flavor is very bold and spice filled. I also found a bottle of Gewürztraminer grappa, for which I’ve been looking for months. It was even on sale! I will enjoy this bottle when I’m missing Italy the most this summer. There is just not room enough in my bags for all the luscious delights I want to take home with me. But I’m sure I can squeeze in a few bottles of good things.

I met a metaphysical hippy type woman from Chile and her Sicilian man while I was having a drink one afternoon. She took an immediate liking to me and asked me to share a smoke with them. This was a welcome reprieve from my solitude, although the tobacco mixed with pot was tough. I loved her generous spirit! She gave me a lovely pear shaped stone of what I think is chrysocolla, which I will have made into a necklace when I get home. I will think of her and my time in Siracusa every time I wear it!

Siracusa has many churches and historical monuments, although I didn’t go to any ruins because they don’t really interest me. The monument to the dead volunteers from WW2 was stunning from the outside, yet was not open for viewing. I also visited the church of Saint Lucy, Santa Lucia, Siracusa’s patron saint. A kind and generous Sicilian lay server took me on a detailed and extensive tour of the church and chapel but could not take me into the catacombs because they are closed from October until April. I was surprised how much I understood of what he told me. He spoke very clearly and slowly, and my Italian has gotten much better this trip!

I saw some beautiful sunsets and fabulous sunny days while in Ortigia. I’ve included lots of photos below. A beautiful experience and I highly recommend a visit.

Sicily Part 4: Christmas and New Years Eve, December 2017

At 8p on Christmas Eve night, there is a huge bonfire lit in Sicilian cities. They say it is to welcome the birth of Baby Jesus. They also say it is to rekindle in the dark times the light and heat of family and community. It was very interesting being a Pagan in the center of a “Christian” ritual that obviously came from ancient pagan traditions. As the priest prayed, everyone crossed themselves….everyone but me of course. And all recited together the Lord’s Prayer in Italian…everyone but me of course. Imagine the disappointment felt by the devout Catholic man standing next to me when the holy water being flung by the praying priest doused my face instead of his! Poor guy. If I had known my spot would be the chance recipient of such a blessing I would have traded places with him. Earlier today I saw that a bonfire was being built in the little town of Santa Maria La Scala when I went there for lunch. The poor little fishing village built their fire out of old boats and furniture; whereas, the wealthier city of Acireale built theirs out of tree logs as big as me!! Yet the spirit of welcoming the birth of the Sun/Son is the same no matter the size of the fire or the community; a truly moving experience. I was amazed at the size and intensity of this bonfire! I’m very glad I got to watch the Light being welcomed in such a way! Call it Sun, or call it Son, it matters not to me as long as light and heat increase! I’m tired of being chilly all the time.

My new friends informed me of a “Pranzo di Natale” being served at the masseria owned by their in-laws. Being a big fan of the huge holiday luncheon feast, I of course asked if they would include me in their reservation. Masseria Santa Lucia is amazing! I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the beautiful old building, the orchards, the yards, and the view of Mt Etna. Nadia, a member of the owning family and wife of my friend’s brother Silvio, is truly gifted! The menu was full of traditional Sicilian dishes, the tables ornate with elegant holiday trimmings, and the overall atmosphere never let you know that you were eating with 140 other people. Usually the masseria is booked for special events such as weddings and reunions. If I understood Silvio correctly, the fields of citrus trees (alberi di agrumi in Italian) surrounding the masseria were once grape vineyards and wheat fields. Now that they have been converted to producing citrus, the business is once again flourishing. My friends told me that in the spring and summer months, there are rooms available for long-term rental. I’ve included lots of photos for you to enjoy, both of the establishment and of the meal. The wine there is truly unique in my experience. Yes, it is Nero d’Avola but it is blended with a white wine that gives it a gentle and smoky flavor. It was very enjoyable. Here is their website, which is only available in Italian. You can right click on the page and select “translate to English” for a rough translation to give you an idea of the history:

I hurt my back running the vacuum cleaner the day after Christmas! That’ll teach me to stop cleaning house. HA! I’m glad to have a few days to recover before any New Year’s Eve excitement. Alternating hot & cold over a castor oil pack has definitely helped, as have the essential oils and canna-salve. Still, this is day two of being out for the count and I’m getting bored of just sitting in the apartment! I want to go out and eat something! Sigh. Great surprise though! My friends at Masseria Santa Lucia sent me a huge bag of oranges from their orchard! I’m so excited. Here in Sicily I’ve tasted the best citrus of my life!

On exhibit here in Acireale is a Napoletano Presepe, advertised as one of the largest and most elaborate in Italy. It was astounding! I’ve included lots of photos for you. I searched the website of a company that makes such figures and I can’t find the witch in any of their inventory. Sigh. I sure would like to have her!

*Warning: there are going to be a lot of photos in this blog!!*

New Year’s Eve: When I ate at Locanda degli Abbatazzi last week, Salvotore asked me if I would like a table at the Cenone di San Silvestro, to which I of course responded with an enthusiastic yes! WOOT! He was sweet to give me the window table, tavolo panoramico. I was the only one there eating alone but I’ve gotten used to that. Ha! Salvo welcomed us all as if we were family, making sure we were comfortable and had water & wine for the meal. I was also the only person there that night to drink red wine. ~giggles~ I know it is against custom to drink red with fish but my palate for white wine is very limited. I like moscato spumante and that is about it. But Salvo didn’t miss a beat as he graciously poured me a pitcher of their house red. I’m such a hillbilly. The grand dinner was almost completely from the sea! I’ve included lots of photos of both this meal and the Pranzo di Natale. I’ve captioned each one and apologize for the poor lighting in the New Year’s Eve dinner pics. I was seated between the light and the camera so the plates are somewhat shaded.  After this lovely meal I walked home in a haze of salt peter smoke from all of the firecrackers lit in the streets. I’m deeply grateful for this past year with all of its challenges and blessings. I’m looking forward to next year! Oh wait, it’s already next year! Ok, I’m off to bed.

Sicily Part 3: Palermo and good food & wine in Acireale….finally! December 2017

Palermo:  The buildings are beautiful in the city center, and I had a great time with my friends who invited me to join them for the day. Palermo was just starting its Christmas decorating, which I’m sure will add to the beauty of the downtown Centro district. I recommend going into the cathedrals. They are stunning inside! That being said, I will not go back to Palermo as it is not a charming enough big city for me to want to stay and explore any more of the food options. Highly populated cities are really not my thing anymore. I like very much the small town feeling.

I was not overly impressed with the food but it is difficult to judge the gastro-possibilities of a city after only one visit. I am not a fan of fried food and this seems to be the staple for the locals. Blech! I did find an acceptable place for dinner: Bisso Bistro. Whereas it was not the best food, it was acceptable after a day of not much to eat. The artichoke caponata was good. I followed this with a bowl of excellent pumpkin soup. Then came the weird raw seafood plate….the gamberetti was tolerable with the orange sauce, the sepia slid down just fast enough to be considered slimy so no more of that, and the salmon was fine with the bread yet it would have been nice to have some cheese. Like I said, not impressive.

For a good and affordable place to stay in the city center, I recommend B&B Vivaldi.  Gabriele and Riccardo were very friendly. The establishment was secure and the bed was comfortable. The location was perfect! The water pump in the bathroom was a bit weird and loud, and it scared the crap outta me the first three times it went off.  They serve a nice little breakfast included in the price. When getting to the B&B from the bus/train station, don’t take the taxi if you can help it. If you need to take one, negotiate the price before you get in the cab. Know your route so you have an idea of how much it should cost. Better yet, call your accommodations and ask them how much a taxi should cost from the Central Train/Bus station to their location.

Getting from Catania to Palermo is not recommended by train even if the Trenitalia site says so. Every local with whom I spoke told me to take the bus. So, from Acireale I took the Zappala e Torrisi bus which is 1 hr to Catania, and then the SAIS line to Palermo which was 2h 40min. You’ll have anywhere from a 20-60 min to wait in Catania between the buses depending on the direction to or from Palermo. There is a corner bar between the bus lot and the ticket station for a quick caffe or tea or brioche, etc. And they have a relatively decent bathroom which is nice before getting on the longer route bus to Palermo. For the hour wait on the return trip I went to the cafeteria on the other end of that little block. They were very friendly and well-priced for bar food, quick, tasty, and close to the bus terminal. Notes on Catania bus station: Don’t assume that your bus to Catania will go to the “bus station”. Also, it isn’t a station. It is two separate locations: a building for purchasing tickets and a lot for boarding the buses a block away. If your bus doesn’t stop at the actual bus lot, then get off at the train station as it is an easy 1 block walk from there to the buses.

Acireale: I finally found what I consider to be pretty good food in a restaurant in Acireale! La Carbonaia! I felt like this establishment was giving me their all, something I have experienced many times in Italy and has been missing from my dining experiences here in Sicily.  Since arriving in Acireale, I’ve gotten more heart from the bar service than I have from the few restaurants I’ve tried. But La Carbonaia has friendly people, is beautiful inside, and the menu quite tasty. I heard that it is a “new” place according to a friend at the downtown bar, and I hope that they are successful. Inside the rooms are soft, elegant, and comfortable. Their house wine, you guessed it: Nero d’Avola, is the best I’ve tasted of that grape. The antipasto of shaved zucchini, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and lemon was amazing and definitely my favorite of my 4 dishes. The dessert of candied orange slices on biscotti sprinkled with dark chocolate chips and a little powdered sugar served with a Moscato dessert wine was my second favorite. Antonio, the server, had me try a huge bite of the orange and a swig of the Moscato at the same time. It was delightful! Then he added scored lemon peel to the little wine glass and had me try it again, still with my mouth full of delicious candied orange…POW! That little bit of lemon completely changed the flavor and I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face! He said to me, “Quella è la Sicilia in bocca!” (That is Sicily in the mouth!) I was so impressed! The pasta was my third favorite: penne with almond pesto, zucchini, carrot, onions, and baked ricotta cheese. And the swordfish topped with olives, tomatoes, capers, and onions was also delicious but sadly one of the dishes had to be last in rank. Nino, the owner, recommended that I try the pork fillet in orange sauce on my next visit which of course I will! I’m glad to have found this little treasure. It gave me hope that my time here won’t be a barren culinary wasteland filled with weeks of eating bar food or my own cooking. HA!

On my way home I stopped at the little stone kiosk on the Piazza del Duomo out of curiosity. I’ve noticed this kiosk every time I come down town but have never stopped to see what it is that they sell. A lovely woman named Erminia turned me on to the Tamarindo!! I love it! It’s tamarind extract in a simple syrup with the juice of 2 freshly squeezed lemons and a splash of seltzer or carbonated mineral water of some kind. Wow! So refreshing after such a huge and rich meal at La Carbonaia. Just before my last swallow she stopped me and added just a little bit of baking soda (bicarbonate). It fizzed up, she told me to drink it down after which I let out a big belch, and my tummy felt awesome! This is definitely the best digestivo I’ve ever had.

My friend at Buca di Sant’Antonio in Lucca loves Sicilian wines, as does another friend at Il Peschino. Between both of their recommendations I have a nice little list of their favorites from which to sample. The local liquor and wine store has many of them. I’ve enjoyed bottles of Sciara (Nerello Mascalese/ Merlot blend) and Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappucio/Nerello Mantelatto) both from Barone di Villagrande, Planeta Frappato, and Syna’ from Tenuta La Favola (Nero d’Avola/Syrah). So I’m not feeling so sad about the lack of great wine anymore! Yea!


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