Saturday, 30 March 2019

Castello Urseno 69 (Catania – Sicily, Italy)

This morning we got ready for our journey by train to Palermo. I was trying to find a taxi service to call to pick us up then decided to ask the people at the restaurant if they could call a taxi for us. Since we had eaten at their restaurant two nights in a row I didn’t think they would mind. They were very kind and made the call on our behalf.

The taxi arrived a few minutes later and we were on our way to the Catania train station. At the station we bought food and water for the 3-hour trip at the station. We were able to get on board early and found great seats for us and our luggage.

It was a beautiful sunny day as we left Catania. Along the way we saw many farms and livestock, green hills, and fields of wild flowers. I thought it was funny that when the train engineer saw a flock of sheep near the track he tooted his horn to scare the sheep. Maybe for the sheep’s safety so they wouldn’t run in front of the train or perhaps for the enjoyment of the engineer.

After three hours we pulled into Palermo. We found a taxi to take us to where we were to meet our Airbnb host. I had problems getting the address and directions to the flat organized. It was one of those situations that perhaps the host was so careful providing instructions it made it more difficult to find. Or it could have been I was tired. In any case we met up with the host and she showed us around the flat.

The flat is very large with good-sized bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. We thought the last two places were large. This one was maybe the largest and the most modern. The view off the balcony was super. We could see the Palermo harbor and the Tyrrhenian Sea, a subset of the Mediterranean Sea.

We left the flat to find a bakery and then went to a larger grocery to buy extra food for breakfast. We decided to eat in the flat rather than go out to dinner and had a simple dinner of salad and bread. I started to feel better after I had a nap and stayed up and watched the most recent episode of Star Trek Discovery.

We don’t have any plans for tomorrow other than walk around and explore this part of the city. We’re in the historical center so I’m sure there will be a few interesting sites to see. I’m sure we will walk along the harbor too.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Castello Urseno 69 (Catania – Sicily, Italy)

Another delicious breakfast this morning. I fixed the hash browns and fried eggs and Barbara cut up the fruit and prepared a bread plate with avocado and cheese. A great way to start the day!

We put our heads together and decided on a plan for the day. There were a few things we wanted to see and the rest we will discover as we walk along.

We first walked by the large church we see from our kitchen. It wasn’t open but we walked by it. We noticed that there was a small section on the side of the church that looked like it was combined with an earlier building. Perhaps a way of honoring the old and the new?

As we walked in our new direction for the day we came upon some old ruins but was part of an exhibit that we decided not to see. Nearby were a couple of churches, an old archway, then a park area. Some many small (and large ones too) parks and plazas scattered around the city.

Barbara had seen on a map that there was a shop offering many Sicilian products which could be mailed to the U.S. What a shop! There was a bit of everything there. We were given a couple of samples as Barbara made her selection of items that will be shipped to the U.S. and will arrive shortly after she returns. It will be like an early Christmas when the box arrives.

Further down the road we found the old amphitheater used for gladiator entertainment back in the ancient times. We walked by it yesterday because you had to look over a barrier to see it. Over the years it became lower than the surrounding area. Only a portion of the amphitheater was exposed.

We found the Bellini park that was well taken care of – complete with cats roaming around. There was a beautiful gazebo up on the hill and gardens all around. Quite a large park. The people of Catania really must like that composer. He was born in this city. We took a number of pictures while in the park.

On the way back to the flat Barbara found a store where she bought a few tops. Wish I had room to carry around more clothes, but that is my life as a traveler.

It was getting cold outside. It looks like a storm was coming in and we decided to call it a day. On the way back we looked for a bakery so we would have something to snack on while drinking a glass of wine later. We asked around and found the perfect bakery that had fresh bread that we bought and took back with us.

After a glass of wine and some bread I was ready for a nap. Earlier, we made reservations at the place where we ate last night. We don’t mind eating there again. The food and service was perfect.

Tomorrow we leave for Palermo on the opposite side of the island of Sicily. We will take the train through the center of Sicily and see much more of this beautiful part of Italy.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Castello Urseno 69 (Catania – Sicily, Italy)

After waking up the first thing we needed to do was to find breakfast. We didn’t have to walk far to find a small green grocer and a bakery to buy what we needed to make breakfast. I had already found the grater in the flat’s kitchen that I’ll use to make the hash browns. Barbara worked on cutting up the bread, cheese, avocado, and fruit to accompany the hash browns and eggs.

We have no plans this morning. We started off by walking down a street when we came upon an open market with many booths that offered all sorts of produce, meat, cheese and most anything else you could think of. I suppose if we had walked down this street earlier we could have purchased what we needed here, but we did okay for not knowing where we were.

There was a very large basilica down the next street that looked interesting. We stopped in at a travel office and asked questions about visiting Mt. Eta. There we discovered there was an even bigger market further down the street. Along the way we stopped off and ordered glasses of red orange juice. So very good!

We found a huge and very old wisteria climbing far up the side of a building. The trunk of the wisteria was so large I couldn’t think about putting my arms around it. So beautiful and fragrant too. Of course we took pictures.

We eventually found the other market but they were getting ready to call it a day and most booths were packing up. While we rested at the far end of the market a produce guy gave us samples of yams to try. I’ve never had a raw yam. Was tasty, though I’m probably not going to make a habit of eating raw yams.

We just kept walking around, stopped in at a bakery and bought more bread, ate gelato, visited the Castania port, bought red oranges from a street vendor, poked our noses into a souvenir shop. Just before we arrived at the flat Barbara went into a clothing store for infants and toddlers and bought some items for her new grandchild that is due later in the year. We also bought a bottle of red wine from a shop across the street that we enjoyed after we got settled back in the flat. We had been walking around for nearly five hours.

After a long nap, I was getting ready for dinner. We both were. We didn’t have to walk far for dinner. The place where we’re eating is only 50 feet from our doorway. What a great dinner. Not a large place but the service and food were excellent. After dinner we went on a short walk. It looks like we’re staying in a hipster kind of neighborhood. Interesting restaurants and bars close by.

As we started getting ready to call it a night we could hear music, somewhat loud, coming into the flat. It eventually stopped at around midnight. We’re wondering if we will hear it again tonight.

No plans for tomorrow. Probably visit the nearby castle and perhaps some churches. Maybe walk near the harbor. We’ll see.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

127 The Strand (Gzira, Malta)

We woke to rain this morning, but it didn’t deter us from going to Valletta. It was very damp with light rain as we walked from the flat to the Sliema Ferry that will take us over to Valletta, the capital of Malta across the harbor from us. 2.80 Euro is the fare from Sliema to Valletta and back.

Our first stop was a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. We can easily see its dome from across the harbor. I tried to take a picture of the dome from inside the church but couldn’t get it all in one picture. Everywhere you looked inside was marble.

Though Barbara made a large fruit salad for our breakfast, we were getting hungry. We walked up the street from the Basilica and found a number of restaurants. Difficult to decide which one might serve a good lunch for us. Barbara walked into a nearby dress shop and asked for a recommendation. Without any hesitation the shopkeeper said the pasta restaurant, Pastaus, across the street would be our best choice.

At this restaurant we had our choice of pasta and sauce. The pasta was all hand-made and was brought out to us after we sat down. As we finished our pasta meal we started talking with the couple next to us. They were from Canada and had just arrived on a cruise ship I saw earlier from the flat. We sat and talked for quite a while before we got up to see more of Valletta.

There were a few shops nearby that offered potential desserts, but we decided to move along down one of the main shopping streets. We came across a shop that served cannoli. We couldn’t resist and each had a small cannoli. My first cannoli ever and it was yummy!

Barbara had been looking for a local glass shop that featured hand-made decorative glass olive oil bottles. She bought two. One for a friend and one for her. I was looking at the variety of glass rabbits.

We continued walking around until we started to get wet and decided it was time to take the ferry back across the harbor. We still had to get ready for our flight to Catania, Sicily. Of course we stopped at our favorite place for gelato on our way back to the flat.

After I had a nap, we were ready to call for a taxi to the airport. Our flight was quick and easy to Catania, which is less than 200 miles from Malta. We ate a couple of small meat pastries that we picked up earlier while we waited for our flight. The taxi to our flat in Catania was expensive (30 Euro) but quick. Our host met us at the three bedroom flat we had found on Airbnb. It was a bit rustic, but very spacious with a large well-equipped kitchen.

It was nearly 10:00 by the time we were settled, but there was no food in the flat. Just a bottle of water in the refrigerator. Our host said we might be able to find a small grocery down the road. We found the store, but it only had a limited selection. There we found a few snacks, milk, and beer. That will have to do until morning.

After a beer and enjoying our snacks we were ready for bed. It was a long day. We have no definite plans for tomorrow. We’ll see what the weather is like and go from there.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

127 The Strand (Gzira, Malta)

After a breakfast of mixed fruit, and I fixed the hashbrown/fried egg meal for Barbara, we ordered a taxi to take us to the ferry terminal on the other side of the island to catch a ferry to Gozo.

Our driver took us along the back roads to the ferry terminal located in Cirkewwa. So very interesting to see the variety of terrain and vegetation along the way. Booking a ride was easy and very inexpensive. We paid less than 4 Euros apiece for the ferry ride and this included a return as well.

We had no idea what to see when we arrived in Gozo. I knew that I was ready for a nice lunch. After we walked through a recreation of a Bethlehem village (we never did figure out why this was here) and walked around a nearby church we were ready for lunch.

Barbara asked someone along our walk for his recommendation on where to eat and he gave us two options. We thought we would walk over to a place nearby named Rexi. It turned out to be an excellent choice. We both had two items from their menu and were stuffed by the time we left. Everything was so good and the portions were so large we couldn’t finish everything. But we did our best!

We decided to continue our walk up the hill and found ourselves in the countryside of Gozo. We passed a place where horses were kept and then walked past fields of either rye or wheat, potatoes, onions and other crops. It was a beautiful day for a walk. The hills around the small island of Gozo were filled with small farms.

As we headed back down the hill we found a place to look out over the fields to the sea. We saw a fortress on the hill, farmlands, a couple of ponds (where we heard frogs croaking) and the sea beyond. Prickley Pear cactus seemed to be growing everywhere.

We checked the steps we walked today and we were over 10,000 steps. I suppose we could have visited churches or perhaps a museum, but our walk was just perfect and gave us a chance to see the rural parts of the island.

After the ferry ride back to the main island of Malta and a taxi ride back to the flat, neither of us were hungry. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later when we ate more of our dinners from last night. Another early night for us, though I managed to do a load of laundry while I watched Steel Magnolias, probably for the 10th time.

Earlier, while we were on ferry, I spoke with my brother about his trip to Paris in May when we’ll meet up. My niece is working to learn some words in French which will be helpful. She does need more work on learning to count to 10. They are very excited about coming over.

Tonight I was able to make travel arrangements that will get me from Malta to Nice. It took making reservations with two different airlines, even though Nice is just across the sea from Malta. But I got excellent fares so that was good and a two-hour layover in Rome. Now to find a place to stay in Nice, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Tomorrow’s weather looks “iffy” and we will figure out what we’ll do once we get up. Later tomorrow we leave for Sicily, but not until after 6:30 p.m. so we have all day on Malta to do as we please.

Monday, 25 March 2019

127 The Strand (Gzira, Malta)

We were both up early so Barbara could arrive at the diving place at 8:30. I went along because I wanted to stop in at the supermarket near to where she was going to dive. As we found out yesterday, it was only a 20 minute walk away.

While she was diving, I bought potatoes, eggs, olive oil and a grater so I could make hash browns with a fried egg on top. When I returned to the flat I not only make two of these breakfast treats, I made another. Guess I was hungry. Barbara had a quick breakfast before she went for her dive.

Barbara returned at 1:00 and rested. I actually took a nap as well and we eventually went out for dinner. I guess we were still full from last night’s dinner and found some food items from a takeout place to have for dinner. The cost was a total of 4 Euros since each item at the takeout was only one Euro each. I ordered a macaroni and beef meal and I couldn’t even eat it all.

It was an early night for us and we will start touring tomorrow. Our idea is to visit the island of Gozo.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

127 The Strand (Gzira, Malta)

We got a late start this morning. After talking until after midnight last night we had both been tired. We did find food (pizza) later last night, because we really had nothing to eat in the flat. This morning we eventually we got ourselves ready to walk around this area of Malta.

I was thinking to explain, for those who don’t know, how do I know Barbara? She and I went to the same church in Oregon and became friends, then met up again when she visited her friend Mary in Scotland and invited me along. The three of us explored the Outer Hebrides, October 2017. Then got together when I visited Oregon this time last year. She reached out to me a few months ago to let me know that she was visiting Egypt in March and would I like to meet up in Malta.

Barbara also likes to scuba dive. She had made arrangements to go on a dive tomorrow and suggested we walk to where she was going to meet the dive organizers. And off we went. It wasn’t too far of a walk from the flat and were there in 20 minutes. We found the place where she’ll meet the diving team tomorrow. Right above was a restaurant that overlooked the west side of the island. Perfect place for lunch.

We enjoyed sitting outside for nearly two hours, eating our lunch and we also split a bottle of wine. What a great way to relax on a lazy Sunday afternoon. And that was our outing for the day. We walked back to the flat and I took a nap shortly after we walked in the door. It was after 5:00 when I woke from my nap.

About 8:00 we were getting hungry again and went down to the ground floor and walked up and down the street until we found a place for dinner. We both wanted pasta with seafood and found an Italian place that seemed popular with a menu that offered many pasta/seafood variations.

The restaurant was also popular with a number of Italians as well. There were two tables of Italians having a family dinner. We saw several courses delivered and the wine was flowing. The staff was super friendly and helped each of us find a main course that was just what we were looking for.

By the time we returned to the flat it was 10:00 and we talked some more before Barbara excused herself and went to bed. We’re planning to leave the flat at 8:00 tomorrow so she can meet the diving team at 8:30. Meanwhile, I’m planning to do a little grocery shopping at a place near where she will be diving. I’ve been looking forward to having my hash browns and fried egg breakfast while she is diving. Can hardly wait!

Not sure what else we will do tomorrow. Perhaps, later in the afternoon, take the ferry across the harbor to Valletta and walk around

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Parco dei Principi Hotel (Bari, Italy)

After a good nights sleep, breakfast, and hotel-provided shuttle to the Bari Airport, I was on my way to Rome to meet my connection flight to Malta. It was a fairly long wait in the Rome airport, but I kept busy eating lunch and writing two days worth of travel postings.

Another short flight to Malta and then to wait for Barbara’s flight from Cairo, via Munich, to arrive. In the meantime I bought a few items at the airport’s market for the flat and ordered a taxi. Soon I saw Barbara walking through and we jumped in the taxi for our ride into Gzira. We had a bit of confusion about where to meet our host’s representative, but we got connected and were shown where we will stay for the next few days.

The flat is on the 6th floor with a great view of the harbor and Valletta, the capital of Malta, just across the harbor. Barbara and I had a lot of catching up to do since we hadn’t visited since I was in Oregon last year. I also heard about her recent adventures in Egypt.

Tomorrow we plan to walk around so we can get our bearings. Barbara will also confirm plans for scuba diving in the next day or so. I’ll remain on dry land.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Hilton Garden Inn (Lecce, Italy)

Last night I decided to take the 12:12 train to Bari that would get me to the new Bari hotel by 3:00, the standard check-in time for most hotels. Well, that was the plan. The train to Bari went well. I arrived at the Bari station on time and all I had to do was to find the best way to get to the airport, then travel to the nearby hotel I booked yesterday.

As I found out, it wasn’t that easy. (But of course, I don’t always like everything to be easy.) From the Internet I couldn’t get a clear answer to determine the best way to get from the train station to the airport. I saw a bus, that said it was going to the airport, pull out as I arrived. I asked around and found out a train goes there as well. This where I could have used someone who could speak Italian.

I was told there was a building somewhere (people just kept pointing outside) that sold tickets to the airport. It took me a couple of attempts to find the right building. Then, when I was buying the ticket I asked where to find the platform. The person helping me pointed outside and said to go to the other station, which I did. I found that she didn’t point me in the right direction. The station was actually downstairs just 10 yards from where we were standing. This whole process took at least an additional 45 minutes.

By the time I got on the train to the airport it was pushing 3:00. The train was nice and after a few stops were arrived at the airport. It was a fairly long walk to get outside of the airport so I could get a taxi. Google said it was a 20 minute walk to the hotel. The taxi driver said it was a flat 15 Euro charge to take me to the hotel. I said okay and off we went.

The trip by car took a little over five minutes. It was actually cheaper than the taxi in Sorrento that charged me 20 Euro from the bus station. I found out from the hotel that they offer a free shuttle from the airport. They also were surprised at the cost of the taxi. I should have asked about a hotel shuttle yesterday or today before my train trip. I’m not used to hotels offering free shuttle service. Lesson learned: Ask if there is a shuttle service when booking a hotel that is beyond walking distance.

From there it got better. My room was very nice and the whole hotel was quiet and very modern. The staff were friendly and helpful. After I checked in I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich from the bar and took it up to my room. I figured I’ll probably have a small dinner later in the evening. I was told dinner in the hotel starts at 8:00 p.m.

After I got settled I took a nap and slept for well over one hour. I was able to publish two days blog postings before I went down for dinner. My dinner was Linguine with clams. It was very good and ate every bite. Then I was full.

Before I went to bed I watched the rest of The Social Network. Tomorrow I’ll be up early and at the airport by 9:30 for my 11:10 flight to Rome. Almost a four hour layover at the Rome airport before I board the connecting flight to Malta. The price of the ticket was good, which makes the wait worthwhile.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Hilton Garden Inn (Lecce, Italy)

After my Hilton breakfast I got ready for my day trip to Gallipoli. I keep intending to walk to the station, but took a taxi instead. Just as I bought my ticket for Gallipoli I saw Alan and Ginny and we continued visiting as we rode to Gallipoli.

I almost forgot to look out the window at the countryside as we traveled. A side benefit of traveling is that you occasionally meet people who are kind, interesting and have a wealth of experience to share. Ginny shared about a book she read regarding a young woman who grew up in Idaho, home schooled, Mormon, and worked in the family junk yard. Then went to on receive her Ph.D at Cambridge! Wow! Alan told me about an book regarding Jefferson Davis’ wife. Fascinating! Among other topics. Great discussions!

When we arrived in Gallipoli we walked to the older part of the city located on an island, but more like an extension of the city. At that point I was ready for lunch (was past 12:30) and since they brought a lunch they would find a place to enjoy their lunch. There were a couple of trains in the afternoon but none of use were sure how long we were going to tour today. And we each went our separate directions.

I first headed toward what I thought were restaurants next to the fishing harbor, but it turned out to be a fish market which was closing for the day. Ginny pointed out a restaurant during our walk to the old part of the city so I went back there.

I couldn’t believe that I ordered more mussels, but I did. I also ordered, or thought I did, an order of scallops with a lemon sauce. What I was actually served was some sort of meat (veal?) with the lemon sauce. Rather than mention this to the server, I just ate it.

After lunch I enjoyed walking around the small island that contained the castle, the old city of narrow streets, and a few churches. I really enjoyed just walking for about 5 – 10 minutes then stopping to enjoy the view. I came upon a young man who dumped something on the harbor walls. The seagulls went nuts. I think the young man had just cleaned fish.

As you looked over the harbor wall you could clearly see the sea floor. I took a couple of pictures. Less windy than yesterday. Really a perfect day for a slow and casual walk. Gallipoli was the place to be today.

Just as I thought it would be nice to have a treat, I saw a vendor’s cart. He was selling gelato and he featured lemon gelato, my favorite. I continued to walk and enjoy the gelato. Then sat down and finished it while I watched the mid-afternoon activities.

I was thinking that I should probably find a restroom soon. I saw a cafe on the city side of the harbor and walked over there. I ordered a espresso and used their restroom, then went outside and sat in the sun. It was just a perfect afternoon.

It was getting close to 4:00 and thought I’d better walk towards the station. It was an easy walk back and took less time than I expected. I found myself with an hour wait before the train was to arrive. I posted pictures to Instagram to pass the time. I’m really enjoying using Instagram. Amazing number of random people who “like” my pictures and some start to follow me. Very different from Facebook where I know everyone.

As it got closer to 5:30 I realized that Alan and Ginny probably took the earlier train. The journey back seemed longer with no one to talk with. As the train approached Lecce it was dark and after visiting a store and restroom I went outside the station to find a taxi. To my surprise, the woman from the night before was the next in line to be my driver. She knew exactly where I was headed. What a character!

I had bought a sandwich and a beer at the station. I definitely wasn’t going to order room service or go down to the hotel restaurant. The sandwich was fine. After eating I decided to start watching a movie, The Social Network. It had been on my mind to watch it again. I thought Jesse Eisenberg did a great job at portraying Mark Zuckerberg. Which reminds me that I’d like to visit Boston and Cambridge again when I return to the states.

Tomorrow I leave for Bari to stay at a hotel near the airport. I didn’t want to risk missing the flight to Rome. I’ve been enjoying the pictures Barbara has posted on her Facebook page of her visit to Egypt. I’m looking forward to hearing about her experiences when I see her on Saturday as we meet up in Malta.