251 – 255: Modica, Agrigento and New Year

251 – Sunday 27th December 2015:  Modica Steps and Chocolate

Whilst the campsite and the people are lovely, K was starting to feel the effects of cabin fever …. I suppose it comes for being on the move so much and for so long.  When the Aged P’s visited us in Sicily, they commented that we seem so settled in our way of life, they did not see how we could return to a ‘normal’ life.  Since they spend about 6 months each year travelling and are the ONLY people I know of to have visited every State in the USA (except Hawaii), I think I know where I get it from!

Modica is one of the main towns rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake in the Sicilian Baroque style.  It is less well preserved and restored than Noto or Ragusa, but still attractive.  It is also know for its chocolate … of course we had to try and buy.  Shan’t buy again though, as it is tastes pretty rough … dark with the sugar crunchy where it does not dissolve …. CDM (Cadbury Dairy Milk) is MUCH better!


More Sicilian Baroque


And of course, lots more balconies … 




Modica is built in the valleys and hills of two converging rivers.


Lots of steep steps to get to the top of the old town 



More steps up to the Church …


… I don’t know if you can tell, but it is the only church I’ve been in with a seriously sloping floor




Lots of steep steps up to this Church too!

252 – Monday 28th December 2015:  Abortive Blood Test (and Beach!)

We cycled to Santa Croche to try to get J a routine blood test, which we had been told could be done here when we popped in before Christmas …. no, we would have to go to the hospital in Ragusa … ho hum.  We’ll probably leave it till April when we are back home.

Having the rest of the day on our hands, we actually made it onto the beach to sit and read for an hour.  K even got into her cosie, but did not attempt a sea entry!

BBQ for supper as we don’t know when we will be able to BBQ again, as we can’t when wild camping.

253 – Tuesday 29th December 2015:  Litaca

We said au revoir to our new friends on the campsite, but plan to drop by again towards the end of January.  We drove along the coast heading West – we will ‘do’ the SW side of Sicily which we have not yet seen.  We paused to look at the outside of one of that castles perched on the coastal rocks when we had lunch and then drove into Litaca.  We parked up next to the port and walked into the town for a coffee.  Can tell this is off the beaten tourist track … coffees only 80 cents each!  No, I must be wrong, James spotted a tourist train with passengers … it is on the tourist trail after all.

Indifferent night’s sleep as ALL the dogs in the town set off caterwauling (or should that be dogawauling?) most of the night!

254 – Wednesday 30th December 2015:  Agrigento and Porto Empedocle

Only a short drive to check out the coordinates for our night’s free parking by a spit and a beach.  James stepped out of Chardonnay onto a used condom and there was constant flow of single men in cars arriving, turing around and leaving …. can’t think what sort of business goes on here!  So we had a coffee and spotted another port parking about half a kilometre on.  This was perfect and J practiced his Italian to establish there is a bus up Agriegento town … we will keep the Valley of the Temples for tomorrow when we are less tired.

Bus on time and some really helpful locals.  First the chaps who told us where to get the bus.  Secondly, a lady who told us to follow her as she was catching the same bus.  Thirdly, the chap in the bus info office, who gave me timetables and a street map.  Fourthly, a customer (who spoke reasonable English), not only told us how to get to the Duomo, but came out and walked a bit with us so we did not mistake the way.

Agrigento is atop a seriously steep hill and I imagine few tourists make it here, but just visit the Greek temples.  It is literally crumbling away.  An art installation on the steps of the Duomo of multiple plaster feet was to raise awareness that people do care that the cathedral and other buildings are crumbling.  We even saw a For Sale board which advertised that the interior was stable!


The Duomo feet … we could not walk amongst them despite the idea that you should post a selfie of you with your favourite foot to promote awareness of the need for restoration / repair


Seriously crumbling town


And here’s one I made earlier … a Christmas tree out of empty drinks bottles and cling film.




A couple of incongruous modern art installations – juxtaposed with the crumbling old structures.

Whilst we waited for the infrequent bus, we patronised three different bars …. as each brings out nibbles, we did not fancy supper later on.  One bar gave us a local soft bread stuffed with olives, ham and cheese … yummy.  At another we watched a man who bought scratch cards, trade in winning cards for more, pocket some cash and then had over more cash for more cards.  He must have been there for over half an hour – sad.

When we arrived back at our free parking, we had been joined by 3 Italian vans and a British one.  The Brits had parked leaving a gap between us and them, only to have the Italians infill all the gaps … the Italian herd mentality again as it is a large car park.  We knocked on the door to say hello … and Frances and Edward kindly invited us in for drinks later.  One bottle led to another ….

255 – Thursday 31st December 2015:  Agrigento Valley of the Temples and Seeing In New Year

We drove via a campsite to empty our full toilet and replenish our water supplies …. EUR8!  Not cheap when being environmental!  Then onto the car park right by the entrance to the Temples.  The usual guides offering their services and a taxi for the lazy or infirm to take you up to the far end of the archeological site.  We are neither so we walked.  A beautifully sunny and warm day.

The Valley of the Temples was founded in 581 BC and has undergone a large number of excavations.  A British army captain who came out for his health built a villa in the middle, having ‘persuaded’ other people to know down their houses that were built up against the temples.  But he was instrumental in a lot of the excavation and the raising of some of the columns.  The temples are not as complete as those at Paestum, but still very impressive.

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So much reconstruction, so trying to do my bit!

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We have FAI membership (It. National Trust) so the Gardens of Kolimbethra were free.  Restored agricultural area with citrus groves and some unusual species.

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Some really old olives trees with wonderfully gnarled trunks …

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… some 400-500 years old.

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Traditional music being played under the Nativity scene.  A sheepskin bagpipe.

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Ancient irrigation supported by … a steel girder!

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Included here as just soooo phallic!

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The ‘new’ town of Agrigento always visible through the fallen stones

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Trying to cover his modesty, but he is just tooooo big!

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In the Archeological Museum there was a section with pottery dating back to15-20 BC, making the Greek Temples seem very modern

Back to the free parking in Porto Empedocle and Frances and Edward joined us for supper.  We saw the New Year in well – several trips to the bottle bank!.  A group of youths kindly put on a firework display in our car park and Frances supplied some sparklers.  Most excellent.

239 – 250: Maddy, a Birthday and Christmas

239 – Tuesday 15th December 2015:  Maddy’s Quick Culinary Experience and Etna

Tim arrived armed with 40 litres of Diesel and workmen’ gloves.  A bargain at EUR1 / litre.  The source: a local fisherman fills his boat at the naval docks in Augusta and brings back jerry cans to sell to the village.  What it is to know people – the right people!

We collected Maddy Munchkin at lunchtime and drove up to Etna.  We know the way pretty well now as we visited with the Aged Ps and Kerstin, but no visit to Sicily is complete without Etna.



Etna dirt


Honest … it has stopped erupting!


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And honest it won’t erupt… this crater goes back to 1988!


Maddy is the master Christmas decorations designer … I’m just the cellotape supplier.


awesome job!

Supper was in the campsite restaurant and Maddy had pizza and a lemon granita (sorbet) … tick and tick off her Sicilian culinary check list.


240 – Wednesday 16th December:  Birthday and Acireale

Maddy had arrived on about 8 hours sleep over the last three nights, so we just had to let her sleep in … which meant we had to too :).  Breakfast and gift opening on a deck, in the sun overlooking the cliffs … just lovely.  I’d bought some supermarket cornetto for Maddy … Nutella filled croissant …. very popular here and delicious, but nothing like as good as the fresh ones.  

James and I even gave the badminton rackets (bought in Slovenia and as yet unused) an airing … whilst Maddy slept … again!

Lunch in Chardonnay and then we walked to Acireale, via a detour to the local town Santa Maria La Scala.  La Scala means steps or stairs …. it was quite a steep walk up to Acireale and a certain young person had leg ache!  Coffee in town and I got to try a boob cake … I’d seen them before …. Saint Agatha had her breast removed by pincers, but the cake was yummy … filled with ricotta cheese.

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For more info:  http://www.goodfoodstories.com/minni-di-virgini/

We wandered around the town, poked our noses into a couple of Churches … Maddy left in a hurry when I pointed out the glass coffin with the embalmed priest!  Unusually, the Duomo has a long meridian line running through the nave.  After a drink and lots of nibbles, we walked back to the campsite for another drink, as restaurants don’t generally open till 8.00.   We then went down to Santa Maria to a trattoria recommended by the campsite.  An interesting experience … we were the only diners.  An elderly lady of about 80 served and cooked.  The menu was antipasto, spaghetti with clams or fish off the chiller counter.  Given how many nibbles we’d eaten earlier we opted for the best caponata yet (J and I)), spaghetti with tomato sauce i.e. no clams for the non seafood lovers, but I had a lovely pan cooked fish … don’t know what.  Some of the family arrived and were eating fresh baked donuts, so we were given some too.  So Maddy’s culinary experience now included a pasta dish.


Drink in town and both on their phones!


Our pitch … a sheer drop the other side of the railings.

241 – Thursday 17th December:  Back to Brucoli

Services sorted and a drive back to the airport to see my Munchkin off.  She was only with us for two nights and it was absolutely bloody wonderful having her here.  By Catania airport is a massive shopping centre.  We bought our Christmas presents to each other … tennis rackets.  We occasionally see courts that we could use and we both used to really enjoy a game.  Then into the massive Auchan … our biggest Euro shopping bill yet …. EUR279, but that included booze and most food to see us through to Christmas.  I also bought sunglasses and a shopping trolley with some birthday money (thank you Bron, Gill and Al).  I had wanted one for a trolley while, as when I use markets, the veggies seem to weigh a ton and it is a very looong walk always back to Chardonnay.  

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We have returned for three nights to the free parking in Broccoli.  

Today is the anniversary of my best and oldest friend, Nicky, death.  Jimmy was off school and had a Mummy Fun day with Ian, Tracy and the Mums.  Much love xxx


242 – Friday 18th December 2015:  BBQing in Brucoli

We must be relaxing …. a slow start.  A wander around the town.  An ice cream and a coffee …. and that was it for the day.  Tim and Karen shared a BBQ with us early evening.  Tim had combed the beach for wood and built an incinerator fire.  He tells people that when they get cold, he just burns a few boats!  

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TKMax (Tim, Karen and Max the cat, who gets his own chair!

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Nicky had given me sachets of fire magic, which turn the fire blue.

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Tim’s Christmas tree


243 – Saturday 19th December 2015:  Basking in Brucoli

Today followed a very similar pattern: slow start, walk into town, ice creams.  James was, however, moved to run.  Sitting on the beach, and watching the sky change colour with the sun set.    We had a game of backgammon on a lovely inlaid wooden board that Tim and Karen gave us.  James had beginners luck and won!  Kerstin had beginner’s luck and beat me at Cribb!  Am I loosing my knack?

I managed to pay for annual motorhome insurance and paid some other bills.  Amazing how different policies for motorhomes vary; amount of time you can travel, time in Europe, mileage and price …. you have to spend a good long time getting quotes … my excuse for a pretty lazy day.

News flash:  We have been mobbed.  Yesterday morning our pitch comprised Tim and Karen and Andrea and his two dogs.  The motorhome parking at the end of the town had a German small VW and an Italian van.  This afternoon and evening, they have been moving in – in convoys.  The far parking had 12 vans at last count.  A convoy of 4 drove past our pitch to one further around the bay.  But our lovely little community now has 3 other vans – all Italian.  One parked broadside along us, only a foot away.  We don’t like him as he barked at James when our engine was running so James could do the hoovering … this can wait till tomorrow, but he irony of it is, that he had his generator running earlier!  He also came to ask if we could move so he could get in to obtain a sea view …. we didn’t really understand, but told him that tomorrow we will be leaving.  Getano, one of the local chaps, told us it is like this every weekend, but the summer is even worse.  Given that Brucoli is not even in guidebooks, how do they all know about it?  Anyway, we will be off tomorrow.


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244 – Sunday 20th December 2015:  Onto Punta Bracetto

We are winding down for Christmas … so all we did today was fill up with diesel and GPL and drive to our new home for the next week.   We’d booked into a site where there is nest of Brits so we have some company over Christmas.  This site is amazing.  Each pitch has its own private washroom which means you can leave your wash gear in it.  Electricity is included in the rate of all of EUR 12 (5 nights plus).  The bay is super sandy.  It is very quiet.  Rave enough!  

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Consolation for you people under the grey damp skies of Britain, it absolutely poured today as we left Catania.  However, when we arrived in Bracetto, they had only had a light shower.  A German lady said since October it had rained only 3 times.  Apparently it is a little microclimate here and the weather takes it’s lead from Tunisia … should be in for some lovely weather.

We popped into say hello to Dan who had responded to my Wild Camping forum post about ‘anyone in Sicily’, hence our presence here.  He kindly invited us over for supper tomorrow.


245 – Monday 21st December 2015:  Cleaning or Putzen 

We have cleaned Chardonnay on our travels since April, of course we have!  But not a spring clean.  Not a proper one since we left 8 months ago.  After a run along the coast (J did a fast and long one 🙂  ), we hoovered and lifted the carpet … they got a clean and the van got a spring clean.  There is a small tennis court and our mutual Christmas gifts of rackets got their first outing.  We used to play quite regularly, but have not played for about 6 years … it felt really good, but I struggled to hit softly and accurately to get a rally going.  I blamed it on muscle memory!

Over to Dan’s for supper.  His van is sited overlooking the bay …. we watched the sun go down and create amber and pink glows … reckon he has the best pitch, but he is here for a few months and is a regular.  Not only was his ‘signature’ dish of shephard’s pie truly tasty, he brought out cheese followed by a tub of Roses.  Anyone that knows me, knows my weakness for cheese … it goes into a separate stomach.  We wobbled home, full of booze and good food.  Blame the booze, cheese and chocolate combination, but they had a detrimental effect on my sinuses … although I didn’t hear the snores … funny that!

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246 – Tuesday 22nd December 2015:  Cycle to Santa Croce

Another run and my new Pilates mat got its first airing …. can tell it is some months since i did these exercises … ouch!  The nearest main town is only about 5 miles so we cycled past the polytunnels (tomatoes, carnations and aubergine mostly).  Found the medical centre who can do a blood test (routine) for James but not until the 28th – so we will have to stay here until then …. dammit!  Not!  A wander around the town and couple of glasses of vino and an arancini for lunch.  For those not familiar with anranci, they sound gross but are actually very delicious.  A ball of rice will a meat ragu centre, covered in orange crumb and deep fat fried … honest, they are yummy.  Could become addicted.

We BBQ’d for supper, which is something we don’t like to do when wild camping.  Dessert was Pocket Coffee.  Created in Italy, but available in the UK from Amazon.  Dark chocolate with an espresso liquid coffee inside … Dan had introduced us to them and I’d bought some today.  Not sure how long the box will last as they are truly addictive (perhaps I have an addictive personality?!).  And I tried the orange fortified wine which I had bought yesterday from the fruit and veg van that came on site.  Nothing special, but very quaffable …. have I been rambling?  And will my sinuses play up again tonight … ask James tomorrow!


247 – Wednesday 23rd December 2015:  Pottering

We took the new shopping trolley for a little walk to the local small supermarket and came back with 2 x 6 packs of water.  The water on the site tastes foul so we have resorted to bottled.  Had a coffee and a yummy potato and cheese pastry from the cafe opposite.  The small supermarket is so small it did not have anything I needed, so we had another bike ride into Santa Croce to buy some a few final bits of food.

We took supper over to Dan’s and I certainly drank too much.  James told me that my mannerisms became very animated!


248 – Thursday 24th December 2015:  Cycle to Marina di Ragusa and Campsite Party

We cycled to Marina di Ragusa, only about 9km and pretty flat.  Beautifully sunny and we sat and watched a few families on the beach and a group of men wading in for a swim .. James thought they must be English as not other nationality would be that mad!  We couldn’t find anywhere in the town where we could sit out for lunch and watch the bikes, so we started back.  On the outskirts of the town there was a small cafe bar.  We ordered:  a burger and chips for J and an arancini for me.  The chips arrived, so I helped him out with these …. yummy and can’t remember when we last had chips!  J’s burger arrived so we came to the conclusion my arancini had been forgotten, so I helped out with that too.  Whoops … the arancini arrived …. piping hot and I cycled back with a stitch in my side from over eating!

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Cycle sock and J wobbling over

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The sea was an amazing blue

The campsite put on a little get together:  a drink and a table laden with sweet cakes and pies. As J walked into the room, he just saw a room of old people!  A German gent was playing and electronic keyboard and a couple were determined to skip around the room to it!  We extracated ourselves, but not before having a good chat with our Swedish neighbours.


249 – Friday 25th December 2015:  Christmas Day

I ran and did some Pilates ….J did a mile to test his calf muscle injury.   We had a knock about on the small tennis court using our joint Christmas racket gifts.  Late lunch was a roll of turkey cooked in wine and stock in the slow cooker so it did not dry out.  I even made mushroom and sausage balls, emptying out the meat from proper sausages.  

Great FaceTimes with Maddy as she opened her stocking and with the rest of my family who were having a Baker Christmas … they know how to do it really well.  We even had a conversation about possible being at home to join them next year!


250 – Saturday 26th December 2015:  Boxing Day and Drinks

Another run for K – 6 in a row!!!  A game of tennis … just one set and J won 6-3 … I never win!  Managed to format a hard drive so I could ‘acquire’ some of Dan’s films … including the Peter Wimsey series 🙂

Our Swedish neighbours joined us for drinks and cheese …. it all went really well until I started pouring Sambuca for Yvonne and myself … apparently I passed out when I went to bed and James had to sit on me in order to be able to actually get into bed … I don’t remember any of it, so he must be making it up.

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View over the sand dunes at the end of my run





236 – 238: Puppets and Corpses to Brucoli – the centre of the Universe!

236 – Saturday 12th December 2015:  Corpses and Puppets

We caught the now familiar bus into the centre.  We must be becoming local as there was little need to recourse to the map and by accident we found ourselves in the cafe of yesterday – the phones auto connected to the wifi!

We walked up Corso Vittoria Emanuele and James shopped for enough e vape juice to keep him going for about 3 months.  We poked our noses into the Cathedral again, which we had visited with the Aged P’s … it had not changed … still much more attractive on the outside.

We walked past the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti.  A bit too pricey for us to go in, but I reckon we saw the best of it from outside.  It was built in 1132 and is set in a small citrus garden.


San Giovanni degli Eremiti:  The Arab influence is clearly visible in the shape of red domes and cubic forms.

We also balked at the EUR9 each to go into the Capelle Palatine … I know it is supposed to be one of the main sites in Palermo, but we had seen and enjoyed the mosaics of Monreale cathedral and looking at the images in the guide book, the design at the Capelle look very similar.

We continued walking up to the Catacomb dei Cappuccini.  I’d read a bit about this … catacombs with the corpses still there.  We had really enjoyed the catacomb tour in Siracusa where the guide explained about the history and rituals.  Stupidly we expected a similar level of information.  It is a cynical money making exercise.   Most of the corpses have name tags and dates, are dressed, some have embalmed skin and hair.  They were segregated into men, women, virgins (!), children and professionals.  Some were on shelves, but a lot were wired up and hanging in niches.  Some faces were distorted into an Edvard Munch like Scream.  Gruesome.  No information about anything:

  • Why were they here?  We knew from the Siracusa catacombs that Christians started using out of town cemeteries in the 4th century.
  • Why were some up right and others on shelves?
  • Why segregated?
  • What was the embalming process?
James found this info later.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombe_dei_Cappuccini  Interestingly, the Capuchin’s held the deads’ families to ransom … pay up or your dead relatives stay in division 2 shelves.  No photos allowed out of respect, BUT you could buy postcards and TV programs have been in!  So much for the Capuchin philosophy of ‘life was to be one of extreme austerity, simplicity and poverty’. 
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The pix are all easily found on the internet.  
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And we walked and shook off the unpleasantness of the Catacombs to the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette.  This houses puppets from around the world, including shadow and water puppets.  We learnt that the Catanian puppets were bigger 1.4m and heavier so consequently the stages were shallower only allowing for limited movement.  Puppets can weigh as much as 20 kilos.

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This car was as battered on all side.  The interior was just as full, leaving small person shaped gap in the driving seat.



Amazing attention to detail.


Punch and Judy represented in the overseas section

Leaving here, we walked to the puppet street we had seen two days ago to attend the 6.30 pm. show.  Time for a glass of wine and as they brought so many snacks out, we did not need supper later!


The square in front of the Teatro Massimo was buzzing with street performers and a procession … put on for us whilst we enjoyed our wine.


The performance was brilliant.  No other words for it.  A small theatre with a high stage, so all could see.  One man did all the voices, hardly changing his tone, but you know which puppet was talking by their movement.  Movement of the main arm was by a pole, and there were some double jointed arm movements!  Other movements were using the more familiar strings.  The story line is that of the Crusades; Christians defeating the Arabs.  There was a puppet who smoked a cigar and blew real smoke.  A maiden burnt at the stake.  Swashbuckling sword and sabre fights, where limbs and a head flew off.  Just brilliant.  Really brilliant.

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You probably picked up that we walked  a lot today.  James had very sore feet.  I have not yet told him, that we may have done about 15km on hard pavements!

237 – Sunday 13th December 2015:  Brucoli – the Centre of the Universe

With Maddy arriving on Tuesday, we needed to be near Catania airport, so it was another flit across the middle of Sicily on the motorway.  We are getting quite familiar with this route.  We stopped off to do our Christmas shopping at the Outlet Centre.  How times have changed … what use have we of designer brands?  We came away empty handed.

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Excellent views of a now gently smoking Etna as we approach Catania

Closer to Catania, we saw what I initially thought was black smoke, but then it moved … flew.  A flock of birds doing the most amazing formations.  They swarmed up and down and across.  I was driving and so fascinated, I could have added to the Sicilian road stats, had James not reminded me to keep my eyes on the road!

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I only knew what it was as I had seen video footage of the birds over the Somerset Levels

Our desination was Brucoli – not even in the guide book and the internet described it as a small and quiet fishing village.  How wrong!

J here – as we turned down another very small road to identify our overnight parking, I was a little nervous of the passing places…. it got narrower – has our reader heard this before ?  Around one bend – and we were faced with another motorhome coming in our direction – absolutely no millimetres to pass. K gave me directions from the road behind – to retrace my centimetres and allow the other van to pass by – he was in a rush and countered each of K’s moves with – the Sicilian Defence !  All you avid chess players will know that this defence is actually an aggressive attack ! I’m no Grand Master but my dilemma was apparent – following K’s moves – or being outflanked by Boris Karlovski ! (Apologies – I cannot think of the 1970s well known Russian Grand Master who had that legendary battle with his American opponent…). Either way, I was going to be stuffed, so I retreated my pawn en passant to a gateway – Boris shot past without as much as a “Grazi”  He would have been truly “Prego’d” if `i was 50 years younger ! (Was it Fischer the American chess Master – Bobby)?

We retreated to a nice sandy parking – Tim (who with Karen was parked there) helped us navigate a steep step and directed us to the best view – looking out across the bay to Etna and Catania – see K’s photos…..

Intros all around and chats – and Tim made what was to become the quote of the evening “We’re off to the bar !”. Could we resist ? Fat dogs and lino – again, Amelia/Thomas O’Reilly ?  First bar – wine – ok an innocuous start – good. We also had Arancini – Sicilian dumpling/roll filled sometimes with rice, cheese or other delicacy – no need for dinner later…  Second bar – did not stock wine – Aperol for `k and beer for moi – still innocuous…. We had by now met Natale, Francisco and Gaedano – all local friends with wonderful stories and very good English. Gaedano had gone (Tim said) to light his Christmas tree.  We supped – and Gaedano appeared into the bar- wearing his Christmas tree – see photo !  Then Tim said “How about some Sambucca ?”  (The fat dog perked up).  We supped again and chatted….. Then back to the first bar for – you guessed it – Sambucca ! Innoculous ? Inoculated ? Innoculosis ? Something like that….  We eventually strolled back to our Vardonnay… Slept for England and Ireland – a great start to our stay in Brucoli….


The view from the door.  Yes, that is Etna still smoking in the background.  On the right you can just make out the Blackpool / Brucoli Illuminations:  Tim’s tinselled, decorated and lit up Christmas Tree.

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 238 – Monday 14th December 2015:

Leisurely start.  Tried running along the coast, only to be blocked by a large and locked gate.  Nothing for it but to head up the looooong hill up out of the town.  James tells me it is good training!  We pottered and replenished our wine supplies.  Sat on the beach and read and pottered some more.  We eventually made it out for a walk along the coast, for a little way, clambering over rocks.  The path was between the sea and the bottom of some rather nice villas.  We had assumed that the villas were unoccupied in the winter, but barking dogs proved otherwise.  A German Shepard on the way out and three Dobermans, who really looked as if they would hurl themselves off their property walls at us.  Security is obviously taken seriously here, and yet Tim and Karen don’t lock their motorcycle etc.

Later Tim and Karen popped over for a wee drink before supper.  Supper became cheese and biscuits … too late and too pickled to cook the planned risotto!


Looking across to the town of Brucoli


Nestling amongst the fishing boats




Wild orchids growing on a common along the coast



234 – 235: Pulsating Palermo

 234 – Thursday 10th December 2015: Nothing for it but to go for LUNCH

Having checked the weather forecast, we planned to go up to Monreale Cathedral, above Palermo, however, heavy rain hit the roof.  And then did not stop.  Pretty much all day.  So we walked, dodging the dog faeces on the pavements (worse than Paris ever was) and caught the 101 bus into the centre and checked out a few things with the TIC.  Sicily and particularly Palermo has a strong tradition of Puppetry and there are several museums.  We had been directed to one of them, but it was shut.  Virtually the whole street was given over to puppetry – workshops and a theatre.  A show at 6.30 on Saturday sounds tempting.  


I was ‘permitted’ to take one photo of a puppet being created – you can just see the workshop through the door.

Given the weather and the Italian long lunch everything was shut until 3.00, so nothing for it, but for us to have a long (and boozy) lunch too.  We walked to the Trattoria we have eaten in with the Aged Ps … and were recognised.  Knowing how much food is thrust at one, we opened ‘just’ for the mixed starters.  Despite the wine, we were both feeling chilled and damp through, so we aborted the catacombs, which were planned for the afternoon and headed back to Chardonnay to get warm under the duvet until the heating was well cranked up.


We got all excited that the Messiah was on tonight … any spare tickets?  No, we would have to come back next year … we’d spotted the 2016 programme!  A lovely carpet of poinsettias up the stairs.


Attempting to dry out … clothes, not us!


The restauranteur kindly gave us ponchos in balls … James is pointing to his dangly balls!


235 – Friday 11th December:  Mosaics and Tiles … and Parrots

No rain, but chilly so we were well layered up with water proof trousers packed in the ruck sack – just in case.  Despite yesterday’s heavy rain having washed away the dog droppings, we had to mince our way around the fresh batch!  Up and at ‘em to catch the bus from the central train station to Monreale, where the driver kindly alighted from the bus in order to direct us and a Spanish couple (we obviously all looked like tourists) to the cathedral.  


Street side welding taken from the bus …note H&S: gloves, face mask etc – Not!

The cathedral is listed as one of the Palermo highlights.  It was commissioned by William 11 -the Good, who wanted to compete with the cathedrals in Cefalu (and somewhere else, that I’ve forgotten!).  According to the audio guide, it is a harmony of architecture and decoration influenced by Arab, Norman, Byzantine etc …. in other words a complete hodge podge.  But the mosaics are truly stunning and there are some impressive inlaid marble work of a later date.  I went up on the terraces (aka, roof) and got a view of the cloisters (we balked at EUR6 each, even though they are supposed to be special) whilst J headed off for a coffee.


The mosaic tiles are usually set onto a slow drying base which is marked out by the main artist … slight angles make the light catch the tiles to give the shimmering effect … or least when the sun is shining! 




Many of the scenes depict biblical stories




 Amazing inlaid marble curtain folds behind the figure






Commando man … should check his underwear is also camouflage! 

I know we have both mentioned the driving in Italy and Sicily, but Palermo is a whole new ball game.  We both dozed off on the return bus, with the sun streaming through the windows and the very sedate (mostly stopped!) pace through Palermo.  There was congestion at EVERY junction, despite the traffic police attempting to direct the traffic … not sure if they made it worse.  There was, of course, the odd prang for the bus to navigate around.  

We had about an hour to kill before our ‘appointment’ at the tile museum, so we wandered down to the Botanical Gardens … too expensive (we are not tight fisted, but we do have to consider value and interest levels before parting with our cash).  However, just beyond was a free leafy park.  An American lady asked if we knew where the green parrots were.  Parrots?  What parrots?  Caged?  Whilst we chatted to this charming couple, we heard their squawk followed by them do a fly past.  Just lovely.  If we had not got into conversation, we would have completely missed the parrots and heard about some of the wonderful national parks in Washington State.

The Stanze al Genio is a tile museum and ranked number 2 on Trip Advisor, but you have to pre-book, as I had.  It is completely invisible from the outside.  We pressed the buzzer on the panel of buzzers at number 11 and were told to come up to the first floor of what is essentially old palazzos converted into apartments.  An English speaking Croatian chap met us as the door and explained everything from the production process to the changes through the centuries and the styles from Campagne (Naples area) and those made in Sicily.  The tiles are presented in a most usual way … they are the personal collection of one man and they are displayed in his home.  They are nearly all floor tiles, but are displayed in groups on the walls, mounted on wooden boards.  They make for really warm and intimate wall coverings.  The mix of designs is staggering …. birds, flowers and geometric shapes that could be from the 60’s.  In fact, one set of tiles is a dead ringer for some of the floors that we saw in the Palazzo Nicolaci in Noto.  We were also really lucky in our timing:  the owner had purchased the apartment next door, knocked through and only since Saturday, was now displaying 5 rooms of tiles, instead of 2.


Being part of a Palazzo, the original ceilings had been uncovered.


The owner’s living room





James is hoping to be invited to dine


The bus ride back to our parking was again slow:  constant horns and again we saw another accident …. Palermo really is a good argument for the congestion charge and out of town parking.  There is no way anyone in their right mind would cycle here – we’ve only seen a few bikes, despite the number of mopeds.  Very few people bother with seatbelts, even for children.  It is really NOT uncommon to see people on their phones, despite apparent  legislation that it is illegal.  





231 – 233: Noto Nocturnes

 231 – Monday 7th December 2015:  A Noto Ordination

Text by James … who will K find next to do the write up?

The morning run started a bit late but we reached Acicastello – I did a bit of speedwork along the Promenade – I am quite determined to race in the next month….

Adieu to Aci Trezza and we journeyed south on the A18 motorway – heading back to Noto. On our previous visit with our guest writer Kerstin, we had met a German lady who lived part time in the area. She told us that 2 new priests would be ordained on Monday night and on Tuesday there would be a large procession and lots of celebrations – this seemed an excellent reason to return – not just to see the wonderful Baroque buildings and churches.

Driving smoothly down the A18 motorway – K at the helm – just approaching the turn off for Syracusa – there was an almighty bang beside us – a shower of wreckage and bits in the air – a car had a high speed impact against the central reservation fence of the opposite carriageway ! We stopped on the hard shoulder and k phoned the Police – a number of other drivers must have done so – the Polizia arrived quite quickly.  The accident car looked completely wrecked – we just hoped the occupants survived….  Our van suffered some scrapes and a small hole in the bonnet from flying shrapnel – if it had hit our windscreen – it would have shattered !  Nothing compared to the possible injuries to the accident victims….  We have come to learn that the driving culture in Sicily is inherently unsafe – because we are 28’ long and a large vehicle travelling slowly, we probably have some advantages (unless it’s a mountain town !).

The free overnight parking area (photo below) looked good and just on the fringe of the old/rebuilt post-1693 earthquake city.  To get to the heart of Noto – there were steps to climb – not too many thankfully and just 10 minutes from the Citta di Noto.  Recce’d (what horrible English, James – just as well it’s not your first language !) and retired to Chardonnay to get suited and booted for the ordinations at 5:30 pm.   Now then – the last such event I attended was 30+ years ago – but I recall it was just like a wedding – invited guests only. However, we already knew members of the public were ok to attend in Noto.  We arrived at the Cathedral at 5:15 (plenty of time, we thought) – to find it was already filled to capacity (standing room only) – a thousand folk ?  Eventually, we sat on the step of a side altar – which had quite a good view. 5:45-ish, the grand occasion kicked off – a hundred priests (!) processed through the Cathedral – K reckoned all the priests of Sicily were there.  The Bishop of Noto delivered a homily – it was theatrical – my Italian/Latin is good enough to identify much use of “pecatta mundi” – the sins of the world.  As a Catholic (not a regular churchgoer), I have had my fill of fire and brimstone in the 60’s.  But, the bishop calmed down and the celebration continued with lovely choir singing – and finally Giovanni and Paolo became ordained priests – to rapturous applause from the huge congregation !  After 2 and a half hours, we slipped away – a lovely warm family occasion – a first for K.  

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View to Acicastello on our morning run

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View back to the Cyclopi Rocks at Aci Trezza

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We took this going back up the motorway on Wednesday: you can see with what force the car hit the barrier, and the barriers here are seriously strong – they need to be.  Less than 1 km further up the road we saw a newly overturned car on the opposite carriageway.

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Bishop’s looong sermon: it sounded full of brimstone and fire

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232 – Tuesday 8th December 2015:  Feast of the Immaculate Conception

We were awoken by 8 thunderous artillery rounds at 8:00 am – K was convinced that Mt Etna was erupting on our parking area – and she complains about my geographical prowess ! No signs of lava in the photo though…..

I had forgotten that 8th December is the feast of the Immaculate Conception – a most important occasion in the Catholic Church. K’s photos show the completely novel (to us) way of placing the floral garland on the statue of the Virgin – at midday outside the Church of St Francis of Assisi.  I even remembered the Latin words of the Angelus hymn – Amelia – can you sing it please ?  

The main procession was scheduled for 5:30 pm and we managed a quick glass of wine at Paolo’s cafe near the Cathedral…. Paolo knew every man, woman and child who passed by en route to the procession… He also serves a good Marsala, K assures me…..

The photos excellently capture the spirit of the procession – it took 40 strong men in relays to carry the statue of the Virgin around town – including one uphill section !

Yet another warm family event – all ages out on the streets. We probably celebrated these feasts in Ireland in a similar fashion 50+ years ago – clearly, Italy has maintained traditions that go back many centuries…  It definitely gets the whole community involved – not a bad thing ?

Paolo’s cafe seemed to draw us in again – was that Marsala K ? (K: yes another two glasses and they were not sherry schooner sized!!!)

A lovely day – one of those magic moments that we are lucky enough to find.  Will K become a convert – and drag me off to church every Sunday ?  I don’t have the heart to tell her that altar wine is not Marsala !  

Ciao, amici….




View down to our car park – 4 of the Italian vans went off early – up and at ‘em


Part of a nativity scene that filled a small room in a side street.


The Bishop emerges with the floral tribute to the Madonna …


… who hands it over to the fire fighters? ….


… aah – now I see why.


Tied carefully in place.  And then a cacophony of canon fire.


Town officials … sporting white blouson jackets … some were filled by their bellies!


The band struck up and this cheeky chappie caught my eye.


Bishop and church dignitaries posing for the press.


We celebrated with a coffee and J had a Tiramsu (just for you Sylvie – he did not really want it! – forced himself, honest!!!)


Church of Francis of Assisi ready for the parade of the Madonna


Clerics and church orders descended from the Mass first …

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The Madonna carried by a lot of burly priests and accompanied not by canon fire, but fireworks and showers of paper contain the words ‘W Madonna’ 


People and the band followed through the streets of Noto


Many watched on their balconies … this lady dressed to match her poinsettia plants.


We peeled off and returned to the bar, and about an hour later the nuns arrived, heading the procession



Once the Madonna was safely back at the church, there was a superb firework display


233 – Wednesday 9th December 2015:  Abortive Dentist and Motorway to Palermo

Minor dental treatment is required – not to sew up the outlet for the hot air – but a filling of sorts.  I visited a dental clinic in Noto but failed to get an appointment – K photo blogged while I pounded the cobbles and steps…..

Palermo beckons – for the second time – A18 again northbound this time. We passed the scene of the bad accident – the photo above speaks for itself. Later, a car on it’s roof on the carriageway – these motorways are not busy – what is it ? Speed seems to be the problem everywhere…..  Rush hour in the streets of Palermo en route to our overnight stay – the van fuel gauge suddenly indicated empty – somewhat adding to my driving stress levels….  a quick fuel fill and onwards.  K navigating by Google maps (Brad sidelined) – I managed to overshoot the gate of the parking area – K had to guide me reversing (the van, not K reversing) in the dark and rain and traffic, successfully…..

Buone notte, readers……


Postscript:  Well done Maddy

Well done to my Munchkin:

a) massive hair chop and donated it to Little Princess Trust

b) all selected Universities have offered her a place … she just needs to do enough work to get into the one she really wants … Kent Uni.

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