Val di Noto & Montalbano
Our third and final excursion out of Siracusa was a loop around the Val di Noto. This area was destroyed in 1693 by Italy's largest ever earthquake and was rebuilt, as UNESCO would say, to represent "the culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe". We added a second loop to visit some of the filming locations of our favorite Italian TV series - "Inspector Montalbano".
Malta...Don't Knock It
Our second excursion from Siracusa was inspired when we met a couple at a seaside cafe in Ortigia over an evening aperitivo. They couldn't say enough about their home, Malta: "the safest country in the world...lots of beautiful architecture...great food that blends the best of the Mediterranean cuisines...everyone speaks English!". When we found round-trip Ryan Air flights for less than $45 each, the decision was easy! We booked two nights at the Point de Vue Hotel - recommended by a NY Times article - and we packed our backpacks for a short "vacation" from our chilly Siracusa apartment.
One benefit of opting for the monthly rental discount AirBnB is that we feel justified heading out on excursions out of Siracusa for a couple of nights at a time. Our first “vacation” was to visit Mount Etna - especially to sample some wine. On a bright Tuesday morning we packed into our rented FIAT Panda with Etna in our sights. Our first stop was Oro D’Etna in the town of Zafferana Etnea, where honey is the main source of income for 2/3 of the population. This family-run business featured free tastings of their wines, olives & olive oil, pestos, and - most importantly - their honey. The wines were just OK, their olives (especially the delectable large green ones) and their pestos and flavored oils were first rate, but the honey was the star of the show.
For weeks Nancy has been saying to Richard that when they get to Sicily he's going to play in a bar or restaurant. Since Nancy has a talent of merely willing things into fruition, on the first day in Siracusa Richard stumbled upon a vegan restaurant called "MOON - Move Ortigia Out of Normality" that featured live music. This weekend's artist? "Come In & Play". So that's what we did - twice! The food was great, the staff was as sweet as can be, and the piano was a vintage Steinway.
Here's a snippet of Richard performing. More about Siracusa Sicily in a separate post.
South to Siracusa Sicily
With the festivities of Christmas behind us, the thought of staying in Northern Europe through the winter was just not going to work. We found an AirBnB in Siracusa, in the southeast corner of Sicily, with a generous discount because we booked for the whole month. More about how that's working out later...
New Year's Day was "Adventure Day" - formerly known as the "Dreaded Travel Day". We drove from Baden Baden to Zürich to catch an Edelweiss Air flight to Catania. Holidays are a great travel option - there was absolutely no line at security - and having the Chase Sapphire Reserve VISA got us into a very comfortable airport lounge while we waited for our flight - the couple of glasses of Tempranillo didn't hurt.
Black Forest Continued
Weather-wise, “Boxing Day" was one of the nicer days of the week, so we ventured back into "old town" to get some walking in. We decided to get another look at the city from the heights of the New Castle (tons of stairs got us there). We took a new way down over a pebbled path and through a park where we spotted a blue heron and enjoyed the sound of chirping birds and rushing water under a footbridge.
Black Forest Christmas
Many of the places we've recently visited were planned to move us northward to spend Christmas with our Belmont friends Ariane and Stefan in the Black Forest of Germany. Their home town, Baden Baden, is just an hour or so from Strasbourg France (in fact, Stefan remarked that people from the Black Forest relate far more with the Alsace region of France than they do with Bavaria to the east). We wisely left the highway and drove along the back roads through vineyards for the last 12 km.
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Nancy McCabe &