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Sicily Part 2: Le Chiazzette, public transportation, and a seaside gem… December 2017

Santa Maria La Scala: What a charming place! It is a lovely walk down Le Chiazzette di Acireale to the tiny fishing village at the base of the cliffs. My walk started with old man telling me how easy it was. Haha! This gave me hope that I’m not too out of shape for the trip. Along the way there are a couple of shrines, one to Mary and one to Jesus, both are not well tended. At one time an old fort was built here but now it is the Timpa nature reserve with a great view or twelve. http://turismo.provincia.ct.it/english/the-territory/natural-reserve/the-timpa-natural-reserve/ For the record, the walk both down and up is pretty easy if you are not disabled. If you are disabled, there is a bus that goes from Acireale to the town center of Santa Maria La Scala.

I walked by what I knew to be the only bar in town, up the second road, encountered a man who talked to me about my hat (I haven’t seen many women wearing hats so it is an oddity, yet I need the shade), passed a couple of restaurants (one open, one not) and down to the harbor. On the break wall, I found two men who were filming some kind of destination documentary and asked me to describe the town in both Italian and English. Needless to say my English version was better. HA!  After walking back past the empty restaurant and checking out their rather normal menu and empty dining room, I decided not to eat there and went back to the bar….home of the cats, many cats. Wonderful! La Signora sold me a couple of shots of amaro while I read in the sun, watched old men play cards, her mop the floors, and the cats wash themselves. The old man came out with some pieces of fish for the kitties and told me about his family and business. I overheard a conversation inside about what was being served for lunch today so I asked him if the lunch was open to the public or only for family. I saw no clear signs posted about this being a restaurant so I wasn’t sure. He told me yes indeed there is lunch daily and that their son is a fisherman, from whence comes their fresh fish. I decided this was where I wanted to eat. I’m glad I did not settle for a normal restaurant. The fare was spaghetti with clams and mussels, and fresh fish of some kind that I could barely pronounce and cannot remember. This fare was normal and tasty enough, yet the ambiance was quite unique! I was so caught up in the whole local’s dining room experience that I didn’t even remember to take photos of the meal. It’s a good thing though…it would have alienated me a bit from the atmosphere I think. I had a real local good time! I even made 2 new friends who have since given me a lovely bag of clementines and oranges from their brother’s trees in the mountains, and have invited me to join them for Pranzo di Natale on Christmas day at their sister-in-law’s masseria! My walk back was beautiful with the afternoon sun and fresh sea air. I will definitely return to this little gem by the sea.

Getting around on public transportation has never really been a problem for me until now. I am stumped! I have found 4 options for public transportation here: AST (local), ETNA Interbus, SAIS (longer trips), and train. Their schedules don’t match at all. After hours of struggling to decipher the route information, I decided to go ask the Tourist Office for schedules and recommendations. They were very helpful! As it turns out, I can get from Acireale to Palermo in 5 hrs. So visits to far destinations such as Palermo require an overnight stay because the return buses do not run into the night.

I also heard from some locals today that the municipal government closed the thermal baths that have operated in Acireale for hundreds of years. Being at the base of a volcano, I was sure there would be some hotsprings around. I am sad to hear of the closings. I wonder why? I’ll have to ask around. (as it turns out, the springs have been closed for several years and the explanation that I got was that corrupted local officials took money from a wealthy person to redirect the water to a privately owned location away from the city springs)

On yet another beautiful day I went to the “market” just outside of the center of Acireale. It is a very tiny market of fresh fish and produce. The produce can be bought for way less than in the grocery or produce stores. And they had fresh sea urchins!!! In Italian that would be “riccio di mare”. I didn’t get any because I don’t know how to use them. I’ve only eaten them raw. I did stop at a butcher to buy a beef steak. I’m craving the blood! Us pagans can’t subsist on only fish and veggies, you know!

Today I enjoyed very much the mixed salami and cheese plate from Le Caveau in Centro. https://www.facebook.com/Le-Caveau-858184277657781/?rf=231866137220220 I told her what I liked and didn’t like last time and she adjusted the plate accordingly.

I’m trying my mouth at Sicilian sweets. Sweets are by far not my favorite thing in this world, yet they are a huge part of Sicilian culture. Some of the bakery goods are not too sweet…I found a dark chocolate stuffed cannoli with pistachios that I liked. I also ate a “truffle” rolled in pistachios. I had to chase that with some grappa because it was very sweet. I love the lemon granita, similar to sorbet.

My new friends Elio, Mariagrazia, and Saro took me on a daytrip to Mt Etna! Going to the rim is not going to be possible for me without 2000 euros with which to hire a helicopter. But we got as far up as is possible without one! She is snow covered this time of year. And the winds are fierce! Elio took us to the “not so touristy” north face of the mountain where we could see the “bowl” that catches the flow of lava from the volcano. The terrain was very lunar-looking. We took fabulous photos….well, Saro took fabulous photos. He is a professional photographer with an excellent camera! I used my little “point & shoot” which makes questionable photos but hey, you’ll get the idea! Afterwards we ate at the Etna restaurant Monte Conca where we feasted on grilled meats and wine. https://www.facebook.com/MonteConca

Two other stops on our daytrip: Zafferano, a small town on the side of Mt Etna which is famous for honey and beekeeping; and the Cave of Snow, also known as Cave of the Thieves. Such a fun day with beautiful people! My new friends were very forgiving of my language errors. The Sicilians are much more relaxed about language than the Tuscans. After all, Sicily has several languages. Tuscany has the pride of being the version of Italian that was adopted for all when Italy became a country 157 years ago.