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Ten Great Weeks in Italy

Author: Host Ciao (More Trip Reviews by Host Ciao)
Date of Trip: October 2007

Sicily--Two Weeks, Two Tours
The island is beautiful. I enjoyed wandering in Palermo for two days. The on and off bus tour was very tiring, but did see a lot and hear a lot of interesting info. Unfortunately 45 people and all explanations in Spanish and English, taking too long in some places, plus itinerary and last hotel were different than either of the ones I had before. Must have been about 10 different tour companies combined into this one tour, people from Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Canada, US and maybe more. We did see a lot of beautiful places so I have to say that the problems were worth it, but if I were to do this again I would take the tour with one of the big tour companies such as Globus. We saw the buses so I know they do this.

Now on second day of second tour. About yesterday, I can say I survived and had a good time if sometimes wondering what I had gotten into. It was a bit more of an adventure day than I had expected, but on the whole fun. We walked down, down and over a crumbling dry stone wall and down some more. Then through a narrow bramble filled passageway into a cave once used for producing oil and also now dripping water--a bit slippery and muddy. Back out of there and up, up up through the fields again. It wasn't as bad going up as I had feared. I had to wash off my shoes when we got back to hotel.

Then the so-called jungle safari began, reminded me of jeeping in Utah though not as dry and dusty. We went through bamboo "jungles" rocky stream beds, very rocky and tipping paths. All in all a very bouncy and shaky hour and a half or so. We had two jeeps, and I think the leader of the tour and driver of the first jeep fancied himself either at Peter O'Toole as Lawrence or Valentino as the sheik since his long black scarf ended up turban with flying tail style around his head. We would stop and rest occasionally when, I think, he wanted a cigarette. Both very good drivers. And a lot of laughing though one of the men on the tour didn't seem too happy with the adventuring. Our reward was to taste the chocolate of Modica, grainy but pretty good. Then more off road riding.

We had a huge lunch at an agriturismo out in the wilderness by a lake--about ten kinds of anti pasti, two pastas, stuffed meat rolls, sausage and roasted potatoes, fruit and cannoli, of course jugs of wine and water. Then we rolled out of the dining room and in two batches of people most of us rode their four horses for about 15 minutes. I decided what the hell and with help of a stone wall and a boost made it to the top of Luna. She was a nice horse and her baby and another baby followed us on the ride. The only problem with Luna was she wanted to stop and eat so we ended up behind the group a bit. Through a rocky stream and up a steep bank and then thankfully on road back where again with help managed to get my right leg over Luna's top and off to the stone wall. We then went to the old part of Ragusa and had a gelato and granita tasting--as if we needed it! Back home to rest a bit before dinner.

This afternoon we cook not sure what all, but foccacia and pasta with squid ( or whatever) ink (about this I'm not too sure, but I said I would at least try everything.) The morning is free so I am going to read and maybe start to re--organize my stuff since we are only here one more night.

Foodie Report
I last wrote about the adventure bit so it's time for the foodie report to kick in. I mentioned what we were going to cook, but I will add a bit more. We made scaccia, which is a kind of filled bread. The pastry cook at the resort had made the dough, and the first step of the fillings, but we put it together. One type was filled with cooked eggplant, tomato, onion and caciocavallo cheese and these were like small calzones but in a bread type dough. Which reminds me don't check some of the spelling because I have no notes with me.

The other type of scacciae was my favorite. It was more of a roll and flip kind of treat. Fillings for this ranged from tomato sauce, to raw onion with ricotta, to a combination. I made the one with the raw onion as most people who know me could guess. The pastry chef also showed us how to make small tarts filled with ricotta, sugar and lemon peel.

The head chef had cleaned all the fresh sardines, thank goodness, but he showed us how to do it. He just used his hands! He made the filling but we put together the sardine "sandwiches" and breaded them for deep frying. He also showed us how to clean the cuttlefish and remove the ink sack--as if any of us ever wanted to! He also made the sauce while we watched.

For dinner that night at Poggio del Sole (Little Hill of the Sun) we were served what we cooked. I really enjoyed my scarce. However, if I were very, very hungry I would eat the pasta with cuttlefish ink sauce. I was not very, very hungry! And black sauce isn't what I would call appetizing to look at. To each his own I guess.

The best cooking adventure was two days later in Villagrande, a town a ways up Etna. We sat around the kitchen table of Elenor Consigli, a well known food historian and Sicilian Cook. It was a really great experience. She first told us some of the history of Sicilian cooking and the influences from the many cultures that had lived there--Greek, Roman, Arab, Spanish and French. Then she told us how to make the dessert a cinnamon jelly mold and also how to do it with coffee and lemon. We helped form the meatballs that would be in a sweet and sour tomato sauce. And she explained the spinach and roasted potatoes--called oven potatoes. Then with dough already prepared, she set up to making cavatappi pasta and also trying some other cuts.

Then while she and her two helpers finished up, we went to her garden for prosecco and orange juice. After lunch she gave us signed certificates that we had completed a course in Cucina del Sole, Kitchen of the Sun. We each also received a linen towel with the image of Sicily and many important sites on it. There was also a drawing during a break and hey! I won a kitchen mitt and hot pan holder set!

I think it was a tremendous four and a half hours, and I hope my foodie readers enjoy reading about it. And note to family--you will never have to try cuttlefish ink pasta. No other promises though.

I don't want to leave Sicily alone without a few more comments. Lori and Bob of Wish You Were Here Tours and their guide Theresa organized a great time for us. This was my second trip with them and I enjoyed it a lot. We also visited two wineries and, of course, did plenty of tasting. One of our dinners at the agriturismo on Etna featured a wine tasting too. While I would have preferred to stay in hotels in a town instead of out in the country, both places were very nice and featured great food--and too much of it!

This and the previous week were Wish You Were Here's first time in Sicily, and there were very few problems. The first hotel Poggio del Sole, was not quite finished so there was no spa or indoor-outdoor pool. Not only did we eat at the hotels, but we ate pizza at a place that I would venture to guess very, very seldom sees any tourists. We also had a special meal at the Don Camillo restaurant in Syracuse, a restaurant I had heard of. The first course did not thrill me since it consisted of five marinated kinds of seafood--I prefer cooked by heat, not marinade. However, I tried a bit of every thing including the marinated little shrimp that looked unfortunately a lot like the iris borers I had in my garden once. The pasta with sword fish was good, but too much. Then we had a couple of baked prawns with caponata. Each one provided about one bite. The main course was sword fish with a light tomato caper sauce and very good. And then there was a dessert of three layers of different mousse. All in all a very good time. Almost forgot to say that we finally did see the top of Mt. Etna on the Friday we were there, a beautiful, clear view of it puffing away, but as the morning went on it disappeared until the rains came at noon.

On to Campania
I took the train from Catania to Naples. And in Messina the train was just driven onto the ferry boat and we crossed to the mainland in about 20 minutes. The train started out with four cars, but grew as we went along and I must say that it was not one of the better Tren Italia specimens that I have ridden on. Also when we arrived in Naples we found out that we came in under the main tracks of the station so had to go upstairs. Surprise! The escalator was broken. There was a porter who practically kidnapped the people I was walking with, because they wanted the train to Sorrento. He strapped their bags with a belt, grabbed one of mine and proceeded up the steps. My ride was up there waiting, and I had to go after the porter and tip him, of course, to get my bag back.

On the drive to Sorrento I could see snow, not just on Vesuvius but on all the other mountains around the area. People in the towns were wearing winter coats. I must say I was surprised. I had been here in Novemberfive years ago without any snow on the peaks. Briefly, the weather did get warmer but lots of rain!

I do like Sorrento though it seemed a bit expensive, butI didn't wander too far from the center. The first day I went on the Amalfi Drive ride with a driver--one of my indulgences. The drive is beautiful even in cloudy weather. I was surprised at the number of big tour buses winding around the 1200 curves. One bus ahead of us had to back up and go ahead three times to make it around a steep uphill curve between Amalfi and Ravello. I almost applauded with the peopleI could see on the bus. I realized that I shouldn't be surprised since last time I was here it was November and the season was pretty much over.

On Tuesday I was supposed to have a cooking class, but that went up in the air when the company scheduled a tour group of American women for the class and whoever was running the group would not give permission for me to take the class with them. Their guide called and asked but the person in charge said no. I was offered a free class later in the week but I had tours scheduled. It was an interesting place. I guess it is a very modern resort. The room we waited in was the Jackie Room complete with two way over life-sized pictures of, yes, Jackie Kennedy. I could tell most of the women knew each other so i wasn't too surprised to find out they were a tour group.

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