Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Sicily: Day 2

You can find my first day in Sicily here.

We awoke to the warmth of beautiful Italian sunshine, and made our way to chow down some hotel breakfast. There wasn't much choice, and there was no hot food, but the chocolate pastries were enough for me; I must've had about 3 every morning...

Our plan today was to see the fish market, which we'd been too late for yesterday - we returned to our rooms to freshen up before making our way out into the beautiful weather!

Before we'd even reached the market, you could smell the fish and hear the crowd. It was still quite early; around 9am, but the market was thriving and plenty of fresh fish was being sold!

There were so many swordfish for sale, and their bills were all so long and most definitely lethal/sword-looking!

There were live snails too!

After a good amount of gawping at huge fish and feeling terrible for dragging Jo through the blood covered streets (Jo is vegetarian), we finally headed onto other markets, with a particular one that reminded me a lot of Hong Kong's Ladies' Market!

My favourite was the food market, where we managed to buy pistachio nuts grown on the mineral-rich volcanic land in Bronte, Sicily! The pistachios grown in the Bronte region are famous and thought to be the best pistachios in the world due to its sweet and aromatic fruit-flavour having grown on such rich land.

The outdoor market looked amazing from above, with the rows and rows of tarpaulin sheets pegged down to create a roof and protect its vendor and their goods from the weather.

I actually filmed some footage when I was there, but the quality is too shaky for me to share with you. Watching it now, it reminds me of how noisy it was - these photos made me remember it as being calm and casual, but the reality is that as in any marketplace, there were plenty of vendors shouting, and plenty of noise from the chitter chatter of the crowds who had gathered that day. 

I love filming when I travel. It brings back the atmosphere, and the feelings and emotions that photos sometimes can't quite capture.

Just over an hour later, we'd managed to get through all the outdoor markets in Sicily, so we set off down a side street to navigate our way back to town. We ended up discovering a China-esque street (read: China Town in a single street)

Shoe galore!
Before lunch, we decided to visit Verona and Bonvegna, a highly recommended Pasticceria in Catania. It was quite a walk away from where we were staying, perhaps 40 minutes walk, but it was well worth it in the end.

The staff were all so friendly, and they even openly invited Kin to take photos of the kitchen and the cake decorating process!

As we weren't sure what most of the different sweet treats were, we settled on a few that we thought might be worth a try, and spent €6 on a wrapped package to take back to the hotel with us.

By this time, it was finally time for lunch! We wandered back in the direction of the hotel, and found a promising looking cafe..

They had so many pretty cakes on display! Expensive looking too..

We sat in an area outside of the restaurant itself - sort of like outdoor seating but housed in a glass area with air conditioning. A venture into the building itself displayed a selection of hot foods that were not on the menu we were given, more cakes, and gelato!

When we eventually received the menu, we were stumped with the selection as it was all in Italian. A consultation with our waiter for a vegetarian option was most unhelpful: "vegetariano problemo", before he proceeded to walk off without returning to further assist us.

Eventually, we settled for a salad, which was huuuge! We needn't have worried that it wouldn't be enough to fill Jo up :P

In our non-Italian speaking minds, we thought that our sandwiches would come with the fillings that we chose..

But it turned out that each of us (aside from Jo) had managed to order a ham and cheese sandwich and a panini containing our chosen fillings.

The cafe was quite pricey, and we were totally confused, but we were fed, and it was nice to finally chill in the shade for a while and just chat.

We decided to take a stroll after, as we did not have any plans before our tour of Mount Etna later on in the afternoon. By chance, we came across a beachy area just down the road from where we had lunch.

Once we'd soaked up as much sunshine and the sound of waves lapping against the stones, we made our way back to the restaurant to try and hail a taxi for a quick trip back to the hotel. As we still had a bit of time left, we kept our promise and made our first paying visit to the gelato shop we'd discovered yesterday!

I don't remember what time it was, but eventually our tour guide came to pick up us from our hotel, and drove us across town to see Mount Etna. Before we reached Etna herself, we stopped after our 1.5 hour drive, and were free to roam around and stretch our legs before we continued on our way. He explained the cobble stones that made up the roads and pathways were all constructed using the volcanic rocks that Etna projects every now and again.

As Etna had been erupting gently since even before we arrived in Sicily, the ground was covered with a thin film of ash, and Etna could be heard booming in all her might and power.

I filmed some footage during the tour - it's really quite shaky, but it brings back memories and I wanted to share the sheer power of Etna and her mighty eruptions!

And I got my photo!

 The scenery was beautiful here; I wish we could've stayed for longer!

Eventually we hopped back into the car and were taken to a small local shop which sold different types of locally made honeys and chutneys.

You know how tours are - you're supposed to buy something when they take you to the shops... but we were on a budget, so left the store feeling bad, and made our way back to the car.

Our next stop was the mountains surrounding Etna. Due to the recent and frequent eruptions, these were also covered with layers of ash, as well as actual chunks of volcanic rock!

The previous path of lava flowing down from Etna

Can you see how dark the ground is? It was completely covered with small pieces of volcanic rock!

After a quick discussion with our tour guide, we decided that we wanted to see the several craters sounding Etna as it was too dangerous to get right up to her as we had originally wished. Our drive further up from these first mountains revealed a house that had half-sunk into lava!

Before we reached the craters, we stopped off at a lava cave which was created by Etna's magna flow!

I'm so attractive. I know.

It was actually pitch black inside the cave (nuhhh), so we were given hand held torches. Thank goodness for our helmets too, because it was impossible to see where I was stepping, let alone trying to dodge the ceiling that got lower and lower the further we delved!

Can you find the cave? It's just behind the barrier!
Oh, and here's our tour guide! I forgot his name >< His English was great, and he was pretty knowledgeable!

Onwards and upwards! We went further up the mountains, with the temperature dropping every second of our drive. I had no idea it would be so cold... Let me tell you something: wearing a cardigan and a pair of jean shorts in 5°C is definitely NOT THE ONE.

Our tour guide took us to see a few craters that were formed during the previous eruptions of Etna. I felt the chill once we stepped out of the car, but my gosh, the wind was horrible once we'd climbed to the top of the craters. I never expected to feel this cold in Italy in April!

So, from the top of the craters... these large rocks apparently flew all the way from Etna during an eruption one year! Imagine the amazing amount of power!! (Can you tell I love Etna yet??)

The long and winding roads that we came up!

It was amazing to just stand there with the wind freezing my every bone, looking down on Catania and imagining everyone getting on with their everyday lives. It was truly beautiful. I wish I could've seen it at night.

Before we knew it, our tour was over and we were winding our way back down the mountains with the gorgeous sunset as a backdrop.

About 2 hours later, we had made it back to our hotel and freshened up, before searching for dinner. Our original plan was to visit one of the local restaurants which was quite highly ranked on Trip Advisor, but unfortunately we were too late and the place was packed out due to its popularity. We had another quick browse on Trip Advisor, and decided on another place which was just around the corner.

It was about 10pm by this point, which may have been a reason for the emptiness of the restaurant, but we still enjoyed our dinner, with the attentive waiters who didn't seem to peer over our shoulders the whole evening.

There was also an awesome cheese grater that we got to use - you placed the cheese inside the grater, and turned the dial which caused it to easily grate and freely distribute your cheese onto the dish. We definitely had too much fun with that..

With that, our evening came to an end. Today had been extremely long but so much fun - we'd seen so much in one day, and it had all pretty much been quite chilled out and the weather had been beautiful! We may have forgotten about the pastries we bought!

For our next day, we planned to visit the ruins at Taormina. I will have that up hopefully by next week! 

Thank you for reading, I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings about my Sicilian trip so far!


Disclaimer: The amazingly beautiful and professional shots featured in this blog post are not my own. They have been used with kind permission from Kin :) A few of my own photos do appear, but the majority do not belong to me.

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