Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sicily to France: Cote D'Azure - Menton

The best part about our ferry leaving early was that it arrived early here in Genoa, so we were able to do some driving and made it all the way into France and the Cote d'Azure. We didn't realize it was the Cote d'Azure until we arrived, and saw the maps in the hotel. I was more thrilled by the fact that this little town - Menton - has a sushi restaurant! I got to have sushi for dinner and boy, was I thrilled! The heat of Sicily followed us to the north, much to my dismay. After dinner we walked along the lovely promenade and looked for a beach that the dog could run along. We did finally find one and the lure of the cool water was too much for both me and Isla, and we both flopped right in and walked back to the hotel sopping wet.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sicily Food: Aragosta!

You've seen our fishmonger, Enzo, here on our bog. Today as we drifted slowly down the main street of Balestrate, Enzo saw our car (easily recognizable by its red licence plate) and shouted out "ARAGOSTA!" which immediately caught my attention because I know that means LOBSTER! We got his last 3 and he threw in some beautiful fresh anchovies as a gift. He recommended either baking them in the oven, or agreed that they could be grilled, with fresh basil, parsley, oregano, olive oil and lemon brushed on. We ended up with them grilled, then eaten as left overs pan fried in butter. Yum.

Sicily Travel: Palermo Again

My friend Lenore is here visiting from Whitehorse and today we headed into Palermo by train to see the sights. We had a great day, wandering around and finding our way to most of the spots we wanted to see. We were shut out of the Theatro Massimo unfortunately, but saw the lovely outside. We also saw a couple of the street markets including one that included lots of fabric. Christopher counted himself lucky that I didn't come back with metres and metres of that lovely fabric. There was even a tassel and antimacassar store - where else? Then we headed to the archaeological museum, which sadly, was mostly closed for renovations, but had a special exhibit about Palermo history and food. That being so brief we had plenty of time for a leisurely lunch at Al Macheroni a restaurant we first visited 7 years ago on our first time in Palermo. Still there, still serving good food.

Sicily Travel: Catch that Boat!

Due to some over confidence on my part, we cut it a bit close getting to our ferry for Genoa. We made it just in time, and will be the first off the ferry. There's only 2 trucks between us and the door. Phew! There were some panicky moments when we missed some turns in Palermo thanks to our sat nav which is 15 meters off, then when we arrived and I presented my tickets; which were our old tickets from Genoa to Palermo from April. Luckily with a bit of hand talking and the kindness of strangers I was able to convince the ticket agent that we had booked and paid for tickets for tonight's ferry from Palermo to Genoa. We had 12 minutes to spare before the 2 hour before departure cut off. Or so we thought. Apparently, since they're all loaded they are leaving 2 hours early. Just in time to say good-bye Sicily.

Sicily Travel: Last Day

Today we depart this lovely island for adventures in France. Happily our ferry doesn't leave until 11pm, leaving us another day by the beach. Our friend Lenore departed at an ungodly hour this morning - kudos to Christopher for driving her to the airport at 4:30am. I am looking forward to new horizons, although not to the heat wave that seems to be hitting southern France. Stay tuned for more.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sicily: Balestrate Official Resident

Yesterday I became an official resident of the town of Balestrate for the limited purpose of getting a permission to sojourn for Christopher. This document is granted under the authority of the Commune de Balestrate, run by the inimitable Dr. ssa Efemia Lo' Grasso. The women who run the Commune de Balestrate (and they are all women, except for the police who are mostly men) struggle to work with dot matrix printers, manual type-writters and worn out computers resting on wooden pallets. They are responsible for the same sort of municipal operations as you would expect for a small Canadian city, but also include responsibility for police and social assistance and some uniquely Italian paperwork which they have the power to grant, such as my 'iscrizone anagrafica'.

Then, with that success, we attempted to get Christopher his long sought 'permisso di sojourno'. Essentially permission to stay in Italy and thus the Schengen zone beyond the 90 limit set for Canadians. The Schengen zone includes most of the EU and a few non-EU members. We had gone to the Questura in Palermo before, and met the world's busiest man, but found that the Questura in Partinico, a small city near us also has the power to grant the permisso, so we went to Partinico.

There is an invisible office, entry to which is controlled by Vitos the Cerebus of the Partinico Questura. After a 45 minute wait, during which we met a number of Italians, who were also waiting for documents, we did gain entry. It was somewhat reassuring that everyone was stuck waiting standing around on the sidewalk - no preferential treatment for anyone.

In the end we didn't get the permissio. We did get an appointment to come back again in September. We had almost all the paper work necessary. We are missing a translation of our Northwest Territories marriage certificate into Italian certified and stamped by the Italian Ambassador to Canada. You read that correctly - the Italian Ambassador to Canada (in Ottawa) needs to translate, certify and stamp our marriage certificate then mail it back to us here in Italy. We are required to pay the Italian Ambassador $12.50 in cash and include a self addressed stamped envelope to return the certified copies.  Or, at least that is what I think we are supposed to do. Sigh. I should mention that we would never have gotten even to this stage if not for the excellent assistance of Elizabeth Fraser, who translated our documents, liaised with the Commune de Balestrate and advised us about what we'd need to bring to the Questura.

Sicily Travels - Staying Longer Bonus

Because we are staying in Sicilia for 3 months... we get the added bonus of experiencing more of the frutta and verdura seasons than we ever have before.

1.) Spring - Artichokes, Sicilian Red onions, Fave and Nespolo, Strawberries, Oranges (aranciata), Lemons, wild fennel
2.) Late Spring - Potatoes, Cantaloupes, Apricots (Albicocci) big and small, early Peaches
3.) Early Summer - Green Beans, more Cantaloupes, Plums, Gelsi (mulberry tree fruit), Cherries, Kiwis, garlic, new species of basil, humongous fleshy green figs, peaches and nectarines, normal and squashed (try them both!)

So... we had one apricot tree in the yard and were given strict instructions with reminders about picking the apricots fresh.  Another apricot tree with tiny albicocci (super flavour country) were available for picking as well.  This meant when push came to shove an Giuseppe (our Landlord's Father in Law) came by two hours after we had picked what we thought were the most fresh Apricots.  Two had fallen in the two hours we were fetching the day's groceries... Chris got in trouble for this obvious slip (laziness).  It was determined in order to keep in Giuseppe's good books, we needed to do a better job.  For the next couple of days we made focussed effort to pick all the fresh apricots (the bulk of both trees)...  We knew early on it would not be possible to eat this many apricots... we tried to give some away... we got rid of a few this way... but not enough.  Sarah dug back into her traditional skills and decided on Albicocci Jam... It worked and we think we pleased the Sicilians!

The Nespolo are on their way out...

Apricot... almost ready

Maybe a day away...

The Unbelievable Flavour of the Tiny Apricots... OMG

Should we add some Zibbibo to the Apricots!  YES!

The final product... the blue bowl of extra jam

Sicily Travel: Return to Balestrate Avoiding the Autostrada

To return home to Balestrate without the hair-raising adventure of the A20 detour we elected to hit the southern coast of Sicily. We ended up circling the island clockwise this weekend. Way more driving than I like, especially without the sat nav. The upside was we did see the valley of the temples at Agrigento (from the highway) and some of the lovely beaches. We like the central part of Sicily for the forests - I've missed seeing familiar trees like poplar.

Sicily Travel: Bonnata Agrotourismo

We are so glad that Anne and Walter recommended this oasis. The Owner's written directions were good and clear and the place itself was serene. The hosts spoke Italian and French so we were able to muddle along. Their lovely dog took us for a walk to show us the grounds and their cats kept us quiet company, except for the kitten who was loudly demanding an improvement in his circumstances.

Piazza Armerina

The lovely cobblestone courtyard, with a cat or two...

Cats outside the kitchen door

Our host, pouring some of the lovely wine for Chris to taste

The handsome dog in residence

Enjoying breakfast coffee

The risotto course


The kitten who wants to be a house pet

Our beautiful room

Giving a hand

On our way to dinner, Chris in some of his new duds - handsome eh?

The courtyard, looking towards our room

Courtyard with cat

Sicily Travel: Piazza Armerina and Villa Romana del Casale

When we arrived in the late afternoon at the UNESCO site we discovered that dogs which walk on their own feet (as opposed to being carried in a purse, say) were not allowed to enter. There being not a lick of shade, except at the entrance, Christopher took one for the team and waited with the dog while I did a whirl wind whip around of the sight. In essence it is a wreck of a building the size of a small shopping mall with some nice tile work! Happily for me some recent renovations replaced the glass house roofs with shady wooden ones as I was already wilting from the short walk to the building. The sight is amazing and I'm glad there was only one bus tour full of folks there at the same time. I was able to take some really fine photos which I'll share with you here as our internet connection permits.

Without a good map it was a bit hair raising trying to find this, "most visited tourist sight in Sicily". We overshot the turn once and had to turn around once we realized we'd gone too far. Road signs are few and far between and not always self explanatory, at least to us Canadians.

Sicily Travel: A20 Highway to hell and back

We'd been here months, and living life contentedly when I realized it was almost time to leave this beautiful, frustrating island. The Belgian couple Christopher met when his Brussels air flight was delayed highly recommended Piazza Armerina and the mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale. They also recommended an agrotourism place near by - Bonnata. After discovering that dogs were ok, we made a reservation and got on the highway.

We never seem to be able to leave on time, so it was hours later that I'd intended before we got out our drive. Our handy satellite navigation system confirmed what the Michelin maps on line had told me, that it would take around 3 hours to get to our destination - about my tolerance level for a casual drive. I'd reviewed the Michelin map online before making the reservation and found nothing amiss. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that there was a diversion in place. We assumed it was a little bit of road work (very common to have only one lane of traffic instead of 2 on the Sicilian autostrada). That was far from the case. There had been a landslide in April 2015 which destroyed a large chunk of the autostrada in this mountainous part of the island resulting in a detour which took an extremely picturesque and winding route up to and through a lovely mountain town. Unfortunately there was no warning nor controls about what size vehicles could take this road. The photos don't do justice to the incredibly tight turns. All it would take is a semi with a camper coming the other way and you'd have a 4 day traffic jam.

Christopher was amazing and managed to shake off the few tight squeezes and precipitous drops. I was a bit more distraught - I am not a good passenger! The views were amazing, and I am certain that the tiny mountain town we all drove through is having the best tourism year in it's history.

It was at the end of this detour that the satellite navigation system stopped working. We think it became so frustrated with us ignoring its constant requests to "turn around when possible" that it is now in a permanent huff. Leaving us in the middle of Sicily with a Lonely Planet Sicily guide book and a rather poor Michelin road map book (where the spot we ended up was on 8 different pages).

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sicily Food: Oysters

Earlier this week i was inspired to ask our local fishmonger, Enzo, where I could get some oysters. The answer was from him, but not until Friday because he'd have to order them in, from Chioggia near Venice.

 We got a box of 20, that had 21 in it. Sadly 6 were deceased so we had 15 to consume. Because of the high rate of mortality I decided eating them raw wasn't the best idea, so I started the charcoal BBQ and we had BBQ'd oysters. And LO! They were good! So salty and briny I was very surprised. I was also a bit surprised at their size, the shells were the length of my palm, with good sized oysters inside. All around lovely with the local chenin blanc bubbly.

Sicily Food: Don't look a gift fig in the...

I do like the fresh figs I've had in the past. Yesterday I picked up a couple of the local farmer's figs to have as a treat. Well, they were unexpected. As Christopher put it, they taste like zucchini. It's true, they are fleshy with little crunchy seeds, and not sweet. The dog ended up with the remainders. Today our generous neighbours next door called me over to give me as many figs as I could carry. I managed to get away with only 6. Even that was a rather large number I thought. So, i consulted Google. I had already started the BBQ for our oysters (a separate post) so the recipie for grilled figs with honey and rosemary seemed like a good option. I have struggled with our charcoal bbq, so the whole fig grilling process took about an hour. In the end the result was edible, but not delicious. Christopher thinks they are rather like sweet zucchini...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Travel Advice - Bring it with you!

So much of the advice I've read says; 'pack small, buy it when you get there'. My advice is different. Do you really want to spend 3 days of your 7 day holiday looking for sun glasses or swim goggles, or  a bra, or a bathing suit? Hell NO! Pack what you think you'll need, even if it is bigger than a carry on. That $25 for a checked bag is nothing compared to the lost time spent searching for the thing that will help you enjoy the beach/mountain/mall. Bring it with you is my advice. You've got the added advantage of anticipation then as well. I find that anticipation of a holiday is almost as fun as being on the holiday - everything (good and bad) has yet to happen and it's all in that lovely place called, 'the future' (or pandora's box if you aren't a travelling sort).

Pack large is my advice, 'cause often as not, that 'thing' which will make the holiday complete is simply not available where you are going. If necessary you can always leave it behind.

Sicily: Tourist Day

Today was so hot I asked Christopher if he'd like to go for a drive in our air conditioned car. He was totally game. I had a sort of plan, thinking we'd drive into the interior seeking cooler temperatures. Instead as we drove through Castellemare we happened on a street market. I don't know how these folks can make a living. In Canada their niche is filled by Walmart...

Next we drove along the coast towards Scopello and I spied some baskets at a roadside pull out and demanded that we stop! Not only were there fabulous baskets, but also carved olive wood objects. We spent some money - although not as much as you would think. There is something to be said for doing the tourist route.

Off to Scopello for lunch. We'd been there a few times before for the pane cunzatu (a sort of sandwich with fresh bread, fresh cheese, oregano, tomato, anchovies and olive oil toasted). Today it was jam packed. We were offered a shady table by a lovely Aussi couple from Melbourne who joked with us about the heat. Scopello is a charming small town with classic Mediterranean sea views and a fountain constantly burbling with fresh mountain water. At the spring we met Lenoardo who sold us some of his farm's olive oil, honey and oregano. The honey is spectacular, as is the olive oil. At a little boutique I got some lovely earings, and at another a sweet little jug.

Sicily; Artistic Neighbours

Giuseppe, our landlord's father-in-law, generalissimo, farmer, all round organizer, etc. is also handy with stone. He pops by irregularly to work on projects here.

Sicily: June's Heat

We have reached temperatures that in Canada would have the government opening 'cooling centres'. Thank god for the air conditioning we have in our little house. The breezes are almost gone and even the ocean isn't really cool. It's a funny thing to wish for the cool of Canada's north when so often I wish to be just a little warmer! The grass is always greener. Oh, that's right, there's no grass in Sicily. They figured out xeriscaping centuries ago.

PS Even the dog is too hot she collapsed on the tile floor in front of the AC...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sicily: Lovely Torpor

Torpor. That is the word for this zen state induced by heat, humidity, and a shady breeze. Due to a planned power outage we did rouse ourselves enough to go into Alcamo and see the contemporary art gallery's exhibits which included old radios, a display of glass objects and a creepy manikin wearing the carpet it was sitting on.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sicily; Beaches

Christopher's Epic Journey to Northern Tutchone Country and Back to Sicily

Christopher was honoured by a request for him to come back to Yukon to Northern Tutchone country to Facilitate/Chair the May Gathering.  This is a Traditional Governance Gathering held annually by the Selkirk First Nation on behalf of all Northern Tutchone First Nations in Yukon to check in on the condition of the fish, animals, plants water and land.

The Palermo Airport.  Go get a coffee... come back in 15 mins the ticket agent told Christopher

Leaving beautiful Sicilia...

Points Tickets!  Yeah Baby!

Two pics of Christopher's room in Frankfurt at the Stiegenberger Hotel.

The airlines tried but could not defeat the olive oil can!

Back in Vancouver on the long road home.  Watching Alaskans arrive in Vancouver and mill around visiting with one another.

Vancouver Lineup for the Lufthansa flight... thank goodness for Business Class points tickets again!

Comfortable chairs in the Brussels airport... it's like they are prepared for what happened next!

Was I going to stand in this lineup hoping ten hours from now that Brussels air might take pity on me... nope.

I threw myself on the mercy of some generous Belgians who opened their home to me, helped me make alternative travel arrangements and took me out for dinner!  There are still wonderful people in the world!

The unbelievably beautiful Antwerp Train Station... multilevel train station... what those engineers can do!

Walter Hens, one of my Belgian Saviors... showing me around the Old part of the Antwerp Train Station before our train arrives for Amsterdam.

The Journey took Christopher from Palermo, Sicily to Frankfurt, Germany to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to Whitehorse, Yukon and finally to Pelly Crossing Yukon and back again in 12 (Belgium Airport problems extended it to 14) days.  Perhaps it is needless to say but Christopher is VERY committed to his clients and the Northern Tutchone Elders he works with.

Everything was going smoothly until the electricity went out in Brussels air traffic control. Christopher's flight was supposed to leave Brussels at 10:15am, flying him direct to Palermo with his anticipated arrival at 12:15pm. He was lucky to meet a wonderful Belgian couple who were on their way to a holiday in Sicily who gave him a place to stay and rearranged his travel for the next day. Brussels to Antwerp by van, high speed train from Antwerp to Amsterdam airport, KLM to Rome, AlItalia to Palermo, taxi to Balestrate. I was so happy to have him home!

The good people of the world... Christopher's saviors in the Amsterdam KLM Business Class lounge.

The Amsterdam Airport...

The absolutely crazy busy Rome Airport... 2.5 hr delay to Palermo!

Sicily; Tailor of Montelepre Part III

We went to Montelepre for the second fitting of Christopher's made to measure suits. In a lovely small world way we met another Canadian, Joanne. English is not so widely spoken in Sicily as you might imagine, so the tailor asked Joanne to call us and translate. It was fun.
Me, Joanne and her daughter with the tailor

Christopher testing the fit