Buona Domenica

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We live next door to the duomo, a 13th century cathedral whose bells ring periodically (we have not figured out the schedule yet).  So on our first Sunday here, we decided to go to Mass. This is one of my favorite things to do in Italy.  Even though I don’t fully understand all the words, I have a sense of what we are doing so can follow along and think it is both interesting and inspiring that half-way around the world, others are following the same traditions and beliefs as my family at home.

All Catholic churches in Italy follow the same general message each Sunday, which is printed out in a sheet they pass around.  The padre (father) does a message that is his own, but much of the service is scripted.  This makes it much easier to follow if the service is in Italian because we usually can keep up with where we are and try to participate in the responsive readings.  Today’s service was about cinque pane and two pesce (5 loaves and 2 fish).


Confirmation Sunday & First Communion

The first Sunday we arrived was a very festive day – Confirmation Sunday. The church was packed with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and lots of cameras.  For those of you who aren’t Catholic, older children attend a semester of classes learning about their faith and being tested to earn their right to be confirmed into the church.  Confirmation Sunday is the culmination of all this work, and both the children and families are very proud.  The children lead the processional holding lilies, dressed in white robes, and help take part in the service.  Frank remembers when he was confirmed at Our Lady of Pompeii church in Brooklyn when he was 9 years old.

The following Sunday is the First Communion. In the Catholic church, they have communion every week.  Everyone files to the front and is presented with the bread and (in some places) wine.  So it is a big deal when it is your first time.  We went both Sundays so we saw the same children from last week proudly take their first walk up to receive communion.  It was a very special time.  (I took pictures at the end when they invited the families to take pictures.)

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Later, we saw the group have a special luncheon at the restaurant below us, complete with flowers, gifts, and balloons.

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Corpus Christi

This particular Sunday was a holiday called Corpus Christi (the body of Christ) – an annual holiday that happens 8 weeks after Easter. It is a huge holiday in Europe (England had yesterday off for it).  There were flowers in front of all the churches, bells rang all day, and fireworks dotted the coast at night.  And our little group of First Communion celebrants got to lead the processional down the Corso.  What a special and happy day.

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A Day at the Beach

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We spent yesterday at the beach overlooking beautiful Isola Bella (which means Beautiful Island).  More on that in the next post – it used to be someone’s villa, and we got to visit it!

Cable Cars

Toarmina is up on a hillside, so it is a steep climb down to the beach. Fortunately, they have a cable car that whips you right down.  How cool is that?!

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There are a few public beaches, but most of the beach is taken up by private beach clubs – we LOVE this.

We spent the day at the Mendolia Beach Club.  For 5 Euro each, you get a deck chair and umbrella, plus access to the ristorante, bar, and (most importantly) restrooms – all right there.  Money well spent.


We read, relaxed, and had a wonderful seafood lunch steps away from our beach chairs.

Beach Lunch

And A Massage . . .

At all of the beaches here, a group of Asian ladies wander around and try to talk you into a massage – 10 Euro for legs or back. We kept saying, “No Grazie” (no thank you) as one after the other approached us.  Finally, “Linda” – who says she was born in China but has lived in Sicily for 30 years and speaks excellent Italian and a little English – wore us down.  She offered “good deal” (35 Euro) if both of us had our legs AND backs massaged.

Frank went first – he almost fell asleep he was so relaxed. Then it was my turn.  Linda started with my feet – it felt heavenly.  Then on to my back.

The water was a little chilly still so I only had a beach dress on – not my swimsuit – and assumed Linda would just give me a back massage through my dress.  But this little Chinese lady completely disrobed me from the waist up in one swift stroke.   First she whipped my dress down around my waist, and as I protested, “I don’t have a swimsuit on!” –  she said, “That’s ok!” – and deftly unhooked my bra.  I was so shocked I couldn’t do anything but lie there.  Then she kept pressing into my shoulder blades saying “Male” (bad – I think meaning a bad knot).  No wonder my shoulders were tense – I was half-naked on the beach!  Eventually, she won out and I just let go and enjoyed.  And she re-dressed me in the end. (I have no pictures for obvious reasons.)

I definitely needed a glass of wine when I got home – but I have to say that I was very relaxed (although my shoulder blades were sore the next day).  You just never know what will happen next in Sicily!

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Everyday Life in Sicily – Part Due (Two)

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Yesterday, I posted a glimpse of our everyday life in Sicily. When I sat down to write about our everyday chores, the list just grew and grew.  So here is Part II of our Everyday Life.  In fact, we are doing each of these chores today.

We Laundry!

After a few months on the road, we have our own laundry system. Wherever we go, we designate the bottom drawer of the bedroom armoire as the laundry drawer.  That becomes our hamper so easy to keep up with when we have a load of laundry.

We can only do small loads, and each washer here is a little tricky. I usually try to find the “delicato” cycle since I know that is safe and only to use cold water (once in Venice, I turned all of Frank’s t-shirts blue).

Once the laundry is finished, all Italian washers have some type of locking system and all are a little different. So the biggest challenge is trying to open the washer afterwards.  Usually you have to unlock and wait a prescribed period of time – once I opened too soon, and water poured out onto the balcony and over the side on top of someone on the street below!  I scurried back inside – that was during our first month in Florence – I’ve learned a lot!

No one here has a dryer – I think it takes too much electricity. So we use the drying rack – we are lucky to have a balcony so everything dries a little faster.  When we first started, I tried to hide my lingerie in the back – but now I just go full-on Italian and let them wave in the breeze with everything else.  You can see just who lives in each apartment (and how sexy they are) by the laundry they put out!

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We Recycle!

Taormina has a strict recycling scheme. We have to keep 4 trashcans running – for paper, plastic, glass, and organic.  (Of course, the apartment did not come with 4 trashcans, so we had to be creative.)  A certain kind of trash is picked up every day before 8 am, so we have to keep track of which trash is which day and get up early (or if we are really daring – we leave out the night before).

You’ll notice the instructions say “Porta a Porta.” Taormina is a walled city with a gate (porta) at each end.  So this means that these rules apply to everyone – door to door.


We Study Italian!

Every day, Frank and I both study Italian. He is a pretty good speaker, but I am a beginner: “Io sono italiano pochino” – “I speak a teeny bit of Italian.”  I am better than last year – some of the numbers and greetings come more easily and I don’t have to think about them.  And I can read probably on a 3rd grade level.  But I am not good with speaking.

So we study each day. We have our own workbooks and a chapter book (I am still on chapter 1, while Frank is on chapter 18!).  We also try to watch a little TV to hear pronunciation, even if we don’t really know what they are talking about.  Commercials are the best because you can see the product and sometimes words.

And that’s just Italian – many people here speak Sicilian, which is different. Fortunately, Frank’s parents spoke both so he can understand and speak both.  Waiters love it – they sometimes talk in Sicilian at first to test us, and when Frank understands, they light up and say, “Siciliani!”

So that is Everyday Life in Sicily- and we love it.

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Everyday Life in Sicily – Part I

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Last year, we reported now and then on “everyday life” activities – some people told me those were their favorite posts. Because it is not all fun and games when you live life on the road – even for Two Fools in Love!  So here is a slice of our everyday life (Part I).


We Market!

Everything in Italy is pretty fresh, which means we go to the market a few times a week. You must pay for bags at the grocery store (and bag your groceries yourself), so we come armed with our own bags and with a plan.

We’ve learned a lot, so we now divide and conquer. When we get to the check-out, Frank loads the groceries and pays – a challenge in itself sometimes to translate the numbers and think in Euros – while I frantically bag.  This is harder than it sounds because we need to distribute the weight as evenly as possible because we have a little hike back to the apartment, which includes cobblestoned streets and a few flights of stairs.  When you are buying jugs of water (naturale AND frizzante) and wine, packing your bags well makes a big difference!

Even with our well-honed strategy, we still end up with an Italian audience looking at us like, “What the heck are they doing?!”


We Cook!

With our fabulous market finds, we also love to cook at home. We go out a few nights a week, but we really do enjoy an evening in where we can experiment with the ingredients we pick up here and there.  We even bought our own basil plant, which we keep on our balcony.

This was our pranzo (lunch) today – pasta fresca (fresh pasta) that I cooked and then put under cold water to create a pasta salad with basil, olives, tomatoes, prosciutto, and freshly grated parmesan – molto buona!

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And of course we wash our creations down with a little vino. The wines from Mount Etna are particularly prized because the soil is so unique.  And wines here are around 4 Euro – there are some that are even 2 E that taste ok to me.  We never buy wine that is more than 6 or 7 (more than that and there is a lock on them).

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We Work!

We are not just on vacation. I am continuing to work a reduced schedule from the road.  I’ve set up my home office and work a few hours each day and full days on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I’ve already had a half dozen conference calls – and thankfully the church bells next door have not yet rung on a single one of them.  (The church bells do not seem to have a regular schedule as far as we can tell, so it is a matter of time.)

While I work, Frank goes out on the town. First to the gym – it is the same place he went last year, so they were happy to welcome him back.  He also visits the market, the florist (who sold us the basil plant), the computer guy, and a number of neighbors up and down the Corso.  When we go out at night, they always tell us, “Buona Sera.”


Our basil plant


Food Fest – Italian Style

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We just had the most delightful day of lunch! Yes – you read that right – a whole day of lunch!

We stumbled upon Cibo Nostrum Experienze (“Our Food Experience”), a food festival set on the Corso Umberto, the main street of Taormina. But just not any food festival.  In Italy, they do these up right.  There were 130 chefs from all over the country.  They set up tents down the length of the main drag and were all dressed in their tall white hats ready to demonstrate their specialties.  And for 30 Euros, we could meander down the Corso and try it all.  These chefs took great pride in their ingredients and preparing each dish to order, with very creative presentation.  DC peeps – think of a whole street of Volt or Komi!

And not only food, there were dozens of wineries. They gave us a special purse with a strap around our neck to carry our wine glass, so we could walk around and sample food while safely carrying our wine.  Ingenious!  (Unfortunately, we had to give the wine purse back at the end.)

Frank at Festival

We think the food festival was mainly for the chefs to try each other’s recipes. But they were happy to include us, too.  And by the end, we were friends with the chefs closest to our apartment.  They were from a town near Venice and showed us lots of pictures of their creations – and even their grandchildren.  What a fun and happy day!

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Mount Etna

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Etna Balcony

We already posted an entry for today, but we have some late-breaking news.  We went out on the balcony to listen to one of the singers in the restaurant below – and lo and behold we noticed a red glow in the distance.  Mount Etna is erupting, and we can see the lava from here!

It keeps spewing out kind of high in the air and then down the mountain.  We are far away, so it is not dangerous for us, but I bet the towns on the mountain are a little nervous.  It is mesmerizing to watch.  We can’t capture very well on the phone, but you can get an idea.  Wow!

Above is a picture I took from the balcony this afternoon.  You can see the radio towers on the building across from us and Etna in the background.  Below is a night-time picture – you can see the radio towers in front of the lava.

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Etna Lava 2


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We have arrived in Taormina, one of our favorite places in Sicily (and really, anywhere). Taormina is on the east coast of Sicily with a beautiful view of the Ionian Sea.  It is home to a Greek theatre dating to the 4th century and is the ritzy “see and be seen” place for Sicily in the summer months (similar to Capri).

Taormina also overlooks Mount Etna, Sicily’s famous volcano. In fact, Mount Etna had just erupted the day we arrived, causing quite a stir.  She is always puffing out smoke, but apparently caught everyone by surprise by spewing out ash as well.  Our driver said they almost had to close the airport.  (She has settled down now – the picture below was taken from our terrace.)


We loved our last visit here and were lucky enough to reserve the same apartment (through VRBO). The apartment is right off Corso Umberto, the main drag, near Porto di Catania (the town gate closest to Catania).  It is art-deco style, and we can just the imagine the soirees that were thrown here back in the day.

It also has an amazing terrace.  Our favorite tradition is to have an evening apperitivo on the terrace as the sun goes down.

We will be heading to Frank’s family’s hometown later to see all the gang. And some may even visit us in Taormina.

It truly feels like we have come home.





A Day on the Thames

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Yacht - Aft Deck

We only had one day in London, so we decided not to fight the crowds at the major sights. Instead, we decided to strike out and see where the day took us.  And a fabulous day it was indeed!

From our yacht (see our last post and picture above), we could see a gondola crossing the Thames. We headed in that direction and discovered that Emirate Airlines has a cable car ride across the river where you can see the entire city.

We hopped aboard with a special picture map they gave us so we could identify the sights – the Olympic Park and O2 (the stadium with the spikes coming out) – all the way to the London Eye in the distance.

Gondola 2

On the other side, we discovered the Thames Clipper – a high speed ferry that zips down the river carrying working commuters from Central London to the Docklands. By the time we made it there, the workday had started so there only a handful of others, so we had a front row seat.  The ferry raced up the river, making several stops on the outskirts of London, which I thought was interesting because you could see where real people lived.

Then we slowed a little to enter London proper. We went under Tower Bridge (pictured) and London Bridge and past Parliament.  (It was a little chilly and windy, so the photos are from INSIDE our warm ride.)

Tower Bridge

Then a group of Italians joined us. (I tried to listen to practice my pronunciation.  I learned that some landmarks are the same in English and Italian as they all excitedly pointed, “Big Ben, Big Ben!”)

We turned around at the famous London Eye Ferris wheel and headed back down the river.

London Eye

We finally disembarked at Greenwich, which was on our end of the river. Greenwich is the home of Greenwich Mean Time, so we were officially at Longitude Zero.  It is also the home of the Cutty Sark, one of the oldest tall misted tea ships, and the national maritime museum.  We’d like to come back here someday.

But we were a bit peckish (as they say in England), so looked for the local pub instead – the Trafalgar Tavern. The Trafalgar has been a popular watering hole since 1837 and was a favorite of Charles Dickens.  It overlooks the Thames and is filled with polished wood and fireplaces.  I had fish and chips, and Frank had cottage pie.  We felt very British.


Then back on the Clipper to our ferry stop – and back to the gondola over the river to our yacht – see below. This is the life!

Gondola Yacht View




London By Yacht

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One our way to Sicily, we stopped off for a couple of nights in London. As I said before, our main goal was to transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick.  Since we weren’t sure how long this would take, we decided to spend the night.  We considered the airport hotels, but then – we discovered a yacht hotel right on the Thames!  We couldn’t pass that up, so we stayed a little longer.

Sunborn Yacht Hotel

The Sunborn Yacht Hotel was a former floating hotel in Finland (that apparently did not make it as a cruise ship). They towed it around to London, where it set up shop on the Thames in the Docklands area on the East End near Greenwich.  This used to be a rough area where all the ships and sea merchants came back in the day, but now is a hip area full of high rises and corporate headquarters.  The Yacht Hotel sits next to the Excel Convention Center.

Frank and I had a stateroom with a balcony even – pretty swanky!

Our stay included a very nice breakfast, where you could sit in the main dining room or on the aft deck.

We loved it here and would highly recommend. It is a little out of town – but there are fast clipper ferries to central London to take the commuters to all those high rises (and the tourists into town).  We liked that it was in a quiet neighborhood that had plenty of cafes and parks, but not crowded at all.  Also, the other guests seemed to be there on a local holiday or with the convention center so not very touristy.

And sitting on the back deck with a glass of wine and the city lights in the distance – a perfect start to our journey.

Yacht - Lounge Deck

Travel Lessons Learned

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The Two Fools are making our way to Sicily in a round-about fashion so that we can rest along the way – and because we have found that there seem to be much fewer flights available this year, possibly due to other events in the world. Direct flights – if you can find them – are very expensive.  So we have cobbled together a few flights to get to our final destination – all part of the adventure.

Our first leg was BWI to JFK, where we spent the night at the airport hotel. Then we flew from JFK to Heathrow.  And after a couple of days in London, we flew from Gatwick to Catania, Sicily.

A few lessons we learned-

The airport hotels at JFK do not pick you up at the airport. You must take a commuter train (the Plane Train) to the hotel shuttle pick-up. This is the same train that connects to the subway, and if you don’t get off at the right stop, you have to pay for the Plane Train. This would not really have been a problem except there were no signs or directions, so took us awhile to figure it all out. However, if you take the shuttle BACK to the airport, they can drop you at your terminal – whew.

Virgin Atlantic does not honor pre-check, much to our dismay. Frank and I have both done the background checks for Global Entry/Pre-Check so that we can skip the long security lines when in the US. However, Virgin Atlantic and the TSA apparently are in some type of disagreement so Virgin Atlantic passengers must stand in the same line as everyone else. At JFK, this was 75 minutes long. This did not make us very happy.

Flying to Europe in the daytime is awesome. Before this, we had only flown overnight, and I have never been able to sleep on planes. Flying in the daytime was a pleasure, and there was no one in the security line when we arrived at Immigration in the UK.

Gatwick is farther than I thought. I thought we would save all this money by flying into Heathrow and out of Gatwick. No big deal, right? Gatwick is FAR! This is ok as long as you make sure you save enough time to get there (an hour and a half) and factor the taxi cost (about 90 pounds) into your budget. But when we got there, they have a great set-up with what seemed like a 1:2 security screener to passenger ratio so it was almost fun to go through security. And they have a Harrod’s.

Easyjet is pretty good. One of the reasons we flew out of Gatwick is that not too many airlines seem to fly to Sicily and get in at a reasonable time. EasyJet fit our timetable, so it was worth transferring airports to avoid a late night arrival in Catania. We were a little leery because you pay a base amount (which does not include the seat) and then literally pay for every little item a la carte – ticket, seat, water, carry-on, checked bags, etc. But you knew exactly what you are getting, and they were super organized. They also had an extensive (and pretty good) food menu – at least 40 items.

So we are on our way and getting back into the travel groove. Thanks for coming along with us!